Published Nov 10, 2015Rival Consoles, the musical project of Ryan Lee West, has been patiently building for a number of years now. His last two EPs, Sonne and Odyssey, started to garner some international attention for the UK producer, but mostly what they showed was the beginning of a maturely crafted sound. Now, that resolute sonic growth has culminated in Howl, West's third LP and most compelling release to date.
The record arrived via Erased Tapes, a label that extends the bridge between classical and contemporary, and one that's home to musicians like Peter Broderick and Nils Frahm. It's an imprint that refers to its collective as composers (instead of artists or producers), a rather apt distinction considering its crew and one that's far more applicable to West than you might think. On the face of it, Howl is most certainly an electronic album, but the deeper you dive into its circuitry, the more animated it becomes.
"I guess I'm quite old-fashioned really, by trying to express traditional values with electronic sounds," West tells Exclaim! "I just do it because... say I hear 50 amazing tracks that are bangin' and would sound amazing at a club, and then I hear one track that's really expressive, I always find that it makes the others seem completely redundant. That sort of tells me that I need to pursue that pathway."
It's really this emotive drive that sets Howl apart from its contemporaries. The album is rife with a decidedly human feel that's striking from the offset. Tracks like "Three Laments' and "Morning Vox" were recorded using West's own voice — though not as vocals — which he says "adds a sadness to it, just that human quality, which then adds to the tone, and I'm really interested in that."
West's musical background also plays a part in sculpting his more thoughtful sound. From a young age he played instruments like guitar and piano, which he still uses today as a starting point, before fleshing everything out with electronics.
"I've always wanted to just make music, ever since I learned how to play the guitar," says West. "I was interested in composing straight away, even if the music's rubbish. Really, a computer's the perfect compositional tool, because it's just a way of working with somebody with infinite capabilities. I think it's just the way that you get to constantly bounce back and forth ideas between yourself that makes it so useful. It's almost like mirroring yourself."
Elements like live instrumentation and a humanistic approach are obviously key to the album's overall feel, but perhaps the defining factor is West's less-is-more attitude. Howl is a stripped-back affair, taking only the guts of what makes a good track and running with them. It's clutter-free and powerful, a tactic that West has been refining for a while now.
"It's about being super careful about a few things happening, and really letting them develop, rather than constantly throwing in ideas and sounds and new things," West notes. "For example, 'Odyssey' off the Odyssey EP, there's literally one synth in there, with a few other atmospheric sounds but it just carries the weight of it, because it's the right type of chord progression, the right rhythm, everything comes together but there's not much happening, and I like that idea. You wouldn't really listen to it and think 'this is pretty sparse,' you just enjoy it because it functions well."
In a time where there is an endless stream of electronic music, Rival Consoles sticks out amongst the rhythmic fare. His style makes an impact, and according to West, that's pivotal.
"Seeing as there is so much over-saturation nowadays, it's even more important to express something personal, because if you fail in that sense, to me it has some kind of value, which is hard to dismiss, rather than just making something that sounds cool."