Review Summary: Heartfelt electronica made using home-made instruments, programs and other cool devices. Listen to the spell-binding title track, for hard evidence
To the untrained ear there may be nothing particularly new about SubtractiveLAD's compositions. But for those with a keen sense of musicianship and good knowledge of recording techniques and equipment in the electronica field, it is a different matter. It is interesting to note that n5md, head honcho, Mike Cadoo, upon hearing SubtractiveLAD's music for the first time, instantly noted his completely unique sounds and recording techniques.
For the Vancouver-based musician, also known as Stephen Hummel, develops his own instruments and software, accumulating over 20 self-made devices over the years. Throughout "No Man's Land", his 3rd release on n5md, devices such as home-made synths and patches, drum-boxes, effects units and feedback noise generators are used and combined with analogue instrumentation, on some occasions to breathtaking effect.
Look no further than standout, and title track, "No Man's Land". A 12 minute epic centre-piece that starts off so very calmly, but an undercurrent of distorted guitar work is apparent almost from the outset. As this track weaves between blissful ambience and towering waves of distortion, you find yourself totally immersed in SubtractiveLAD's world. It is one of numerous heartfelt and intensely emotional moments on this release.
Although a number of tracks incorporate subdued, but inventive programming, it is on the more reflective ambient passages where the album truly shines. "Of Sand and Seas" takes its cues from German pioneers Tangerine Dream, but adds layers upon layers of synths and hazy guitars. There's a real earthly element to his compositions, which is surely a product of his home-made synths (or possibly the subtle field recordings throughout). "Of Sand and Seas" conjures images of dormant volcanos in my mind.
That being said, the compelling IDM rythmns on "The Shell" and "The Sun In Your Eyes" show SubtractiveLAD in a different light. The former is a spectacular album opener using compressed beats, driving guitars and celestial synths, bridging the gap between the post-rock and electronica worlds. The latter is a multi-textured piano-led piece, that transports the listener to the ocean front, with its field recordings and calming tones, before rousing you with a series of playful, under-stated programming.
The music contained throughout "No Man's Land" shows a staggering attention to detail. Gentle piano lines, lulling synths, drifting vocals (especially on the gorgeous album closer "The Lucky Ones") combine gracefully with ascending waves of guitar distortion and captivating field recordings. It is rare for an album, with so many ambient moments, to pack such an emotional punch. But then have we come to expect anything less from a n5md artist?.