Alien Skin – P.O.P. Pop – Album Review
Always awesome to have this guy in the mix and he never keeps us waiting long – the new Alien Skin record P.O.P. Pop from experimental solo-artist George Pappas has arrived only a short time after we reviewed his last EP, A Spoonful Of Voices, back in March of this same year. I’ve been tellin’ ya for some time now…likely since around 2016 when we reviewed the record European Electronic Cinema, that George is the kind of artist that never quits, never gets less creative or ambitious, and never stops pushing the threshold of what we know about music further towards an artistic design that resonates into the future. While he’s always had an innate penchant for wild synth sounds & an inherently electro-infused style – if you read past reviews on his records like 1980 Redux or the others I’ve mentioned, you’ll already know full well that George is able to take much of what has worked in our music’s past and morph, modify, and modernize it in all-new ways. It’s because of that fact, that I’m always looking forward to what might come out next from Alien Skin, because you never really know what you’re going to get…the surprise factor runs deep on this project – but so does the art & the skill.
And I’ll tell ya this…after taking in a ton of George’s ideas & music over the years now in comparison to how active other artists/bands generally are…I think this quite honestly could be my favorite record of the bunch so far. Alien Skin is sounding fantastic & fiercely poetic on this new album P.O.P. Pop.
Immediately, “Take Me To The Theatre” opens the new album in a truly epic fashion. Remarkably controlled, produced and performed to perfection – the intense low-end synth sounds combined with the brighter electro-percussion and shimmering elements in the atmosphere are instantly captivating to listen to. “Take Me To The Theatre” is the kind of song that slow-burns with a brooding & moody intensity in the music…the dynamics in the relationship of the low/high-end sounds on this cut are absolutely exceptional to listen to – like I’m genuinely loving the clarity in this mix just as much as I am the sounds themselves. And then of course, there’s George as well, providing a mysterious narrative that runs through the song in a curious spoken-word style that 100% hits the mark in an atmosphere like this. “Take Me To The Theatre” sounds dark, dangerous, menacing…even threatening at times, which is impressive with how stylistic, sleek, and slick this sound is…it still feels like the curtain could drop at any moment and something might jump right out at ya. George puts a clever dramatic twist into many of his words, which again, you’ll find suit this entire concept spot-on. Moments where the music becomes its biggest around the 1:50 mark provide a killer spark mid-song that you can feel has to come somewhere into this song at some time due to the intensity you hear in the build-up; I really liked that he threw this major switch in there just the one time, even though I think it might be my favorite part of this song. The slick oozing & haunting cool of this cut is what keeps that captivating mix of clarity so compelling & hypnotic…I was more than happy to be snapped out of it prior to the two-minute mark because everything sounds so damn good there, but I was just as stoked to return to the mesmerizing sound of the main vibe right after that mini-explosion of energy as well. Bottom line, it’s a wicked first impression & killer lead-cut from the new Alien Skin…such a wonderfully serious sound that’s still mad fun to hear.
Taking it even further towards the Electro/Industrial style with that New Wave undercurrent in the melody & design – “Monochrome” is surprisingly colorful in sound selection. Through a wild palette of imagination and cutting-edge dynamics, this cut soars through a mix of colors and opinions – or perhaps facts even – through the vocals you’ll find spoken expertly by George throughout “Monochrome.” I say perhaps facts, because I happen to think that he’s completely accurate when he says “Grey…is pointless” – I couldn’t agree more and I’d assume almost all of us feel the same way about this ‘color’ don’t we? I mean honestly, what has grey ever done for anybody? When was the last time you looked at ANYTHING and felt like it was the grey that pulled you in to check it out? Do you recall that last time you said, out loud, “Ohhhhhhhhhh my lord, that shade of grey is AMAZING!” And of course I’m not talking about the 50 obvious ones out there that everyone loves…you’re all welcome to those if the whole leather & latex & whips thing is your jam, have at’er – live your best lives. Just saying, that as a color, straight-up, it sucks. “Monochrome” reminds you why that’s true – that’s all I’m arguing here. George makes a strong case for the rainbow of colors in our world and then some, both good & bad, but all in singular, defined, “Monochrome” segments where these colors only mix in the overall theme, but not together as he lists each one and its…functionality let’s say…as the song plays on. I dig it though – there’s a ton of stylistic built-for-the-runway cool that sparkles & shines throughout this dazzling display of colors in all forms. Alien Skin commits to the concept & contrast here…I think it pays off for sure.
Where he displays a real gift in his songwriting, in my opinion, is on “Byron Said To Mary” – because you SHOULDN’T like this – but I bet ya will. Besides…I’m being overtly inaccurate here purposely; ”Byron Said To Mary” is one seriously rad electro jam that I think a ton of people will sincerely really dig from this record. What I’m ultimately saying, is that even in the headiest or niche corners of art-music that Alien Skin can sometimes dive into, the sound of these songs are so good that you’ll find you willingly go along with George into territory you won’t always know or understand, and somehow be singing along with him or repeating the words as he says them. You’ll likely get what I mean more from having a listen to “Byron Said To Mary” yourself…what I’m getting at is, can you even imagine a like, sports-dude or whatever…some stereotypical ‘jock’ type…getting down on a song inspired by the all-important moment in time where Mary Shelley meets Lord Byron one summer in like, 1816, and becomes inspired herself to write Frankenstein? Picture that for a moment…because it IS possible; it’s one of the things that I love most about George’s entire body of work – his songs can often make you think or learn something by osmosis…because the music is always so interesting and killer to listen to, you end up discovering all kinds of stuff through the words he pairs with it all. But what makes it remarkable, is truly that it’s all up to YOU; on the surface level, he’s put more than enough killer sound and stunning electro-melody into “Byron Said To Mary” that anyone out there will turn this tune right up and jam it loud’n’proud – and if you want to take it further…kind of unlock the puzzles in his words and learn more, you pretty much always can. I ain’t gonna lie to ya…I’ve said a million times that Frankenstein is my favorite book, because that’s the truth; that being said, I’ve either forgotten a ton of the details, or George somehow is able to teach me something entirely new about it, which he has on a couple records now. I had no idea that Byron even factored into Shelley’s story until I heard this song and decided to check out the internet to see what the history between them was, which it turned out, was completely crucial to the creation of Frankenstein to the point where it might not have existed, had they not met. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – how cool is it to LEARN something unique when you listen to someone’s music and the knowledge through their perspective? “Byron Said To Mary” essentially recreates what this conversation between them could have been like…or at least that’s what I think is happening…it could be even more than that, it’s hard to say, George is a really freakin’ smart dude that can be tough to keep up with sometimes. In those moments, you’ve got the flashy sound of the music to get you through until you’re mentally prepped to take him on for another round in effort to figure it all out. But here’s my main argument overall for why a cut like “Byron Said To Mary” is so amazing; I’ve told you a bit about the info inspiring it, my theories on what he’s personally doing with that info in the song – and I still wouldn’t claim to know ALL of what this tune may actually be about, just a piece. Dear readers, dear friends, that’s how culture gets instilled in us all and how evolution works in actual practice – it’s artists like George that help inform our minds about many amazing facets of art & history by allowing us to take a piece, however big or however small, from what he’s created, and build on it ourselves. Again, you can choose to take it further, which I always try to, or you can just turn up a really killer beat – he’s giving you the breadcrumbs…it’s up to you to follow the trail if you want to, but he never forces you to.
“P.O.P. POP” is quite the comment on society, music, culture, how we do/don’t experience these things in the present day…again, this is my theory. Perhaps the ‘P.O.P.’ part of the title refers to ‘point of purchase’ and references the commercialized aspect of art & music…that’s kind of what I’m getting out of this tune. I’ve had such interesting debates on this stuff lately with friends & whatnot. I’m the anomaly – and I get that; I’ve got time for so much music out there, especially in terms of styles, sounds, and genres outside of my comfort zone…and experience/time has taught me that I’ve chosen correctly by doing so. I’m open to so many different types of music that there’s always something incredible to listen to and discover…heck, I’m sure that’s how Alien Skin got here in the first place, way-back-when. But there are many people that aren’t…many, many, more. Not necessarily closed-minded folks, just people that like what they like, and nothing more. Sometimes, I’ll come across people like my best-friend in the world, who not only dislike an extremely large part of music out there, but actively spend time hating on it. And it’s just not something I feel like I can personally support, ever – I think he’s straight-up wrong, as in anyone that feels the need to try to explain that one dimension or facet of music is anymore justified or worthwhile than the rest is – and YES…that includes the most shallow & hollow of tunes. To me, we’re still all on the same side; I know many people who firmly disagree with this – and you might argue that George could be one of them based on the perspective he’s putting forth here in his comment on modern-day music on his title-track…it’s hard to say. The man thinks on multiple-levels…and like I said, he’s a smart dude – so whatever you ultimately assume his advice may be on this subject through the words of “P.O.P. Pop” – I’d probably advise you to listen to his words over my own…but fundamentally-speaking, I’d have to believe that somewhere, deep down, he’s on my side. Or at the very least, he’d understand where I’m coming from, and we could continue this debate. J In any event – notice how the experience of listening to Alien Skin primes the pump on a person’s brain-juice and now all of a sudden I’m theorizing all kinds of stuff into this article. I mean…by virtue of the meanings & messages on “P.O.P. Pop” – I could sum this up real quick and say thank-you George for the shiny & shimmering, catchy, hook-laden, born-to-be-in-a-Pepsi-commercial tune & be done with it; because if I AM correct in any of my theories here…that’s half the point at the very least in this song.
And then there’s this quandary. If the ‘Devil’s in the detail,’ as he claims so often in the hooks of “Devil In The Detail” – then WHY didn’t he make the title match the main hook exactly? Is it BECAUSE he’s trying to pick on our (or my) OCD-like nature on purpose? Ain’t gonna lie…my need for some level of symmetry in that respect had me in slight agony here…thankfully the song was another killer cut. Call me crazy, but I hear like…INXS in here somewhere…almost like what you can imagine Michael Hutchence would have gone into later on, were he still around today. But you can hear a similar tone in the smoothness of George’s delivery…I think a ton of people would dig that about “Devil In The Detail.” If you like about how songs like…hmmm…say…”Disappear” and “Lately” kind of worked a similar magic through repetition & melody…there’s a similar energy on this tune & slick sound that slides right into your ears on this cut. I think George has done an exceptional job on the vocals here – not just the lead, but the backing vocals, which are absolutely essential on this cut and also reveal what a great voice he has as well if you’re listening closely. He’s got the spoken-word up front, which is likely what a lot of people will notice most – but if you listen to this song’s main hooks and backing layers, you’ll discover he’s got quite the voice as well…which is intriguing on a whole other level too, cause you’ll almost wonder at what would stop him from using that more often. But as the arpeggio-style rhythm & groove of “Devil In The Detail” continues to slide & glide along so effortlessly but so interestingly as well, you’ve gotta remember that the main mission of Alien Skin is to go beyond where we’ve been in search of new art & music that’s yet to be explored. So while he might be more than capable of creating an easy-to-digest radio-hit at any time…it’s interesting to note just how much he chooses to go right instead of left. “Devil In The Detail” might be as close to a radio-cut as you’d ever find in the Alien Skin catalog…still a healthy miles & miles away due to its expressive & experimental verses…but those main hooks, gotta say, those are mighty fine discoveries and certainly bound to pull in a lot of people to listen to this tune.
Shoot. He must have heard me. I think George probably goes from the flashiness of “P.O.P. Pop” and “Devil In The Detail” into much less accessible & more artistic terrain on “Charles Dickens” to follow, as if he also realized he was heading decidedly closer to that mainstream vibe for a moment there. Again, for true fans of Alien Skin that get this project’s regular diet of experimentalism & audio-awesomeness combined, you’ll have no problem heading back down the rabbit hole with George on this tune, but for the rest out there, might prove to be more of a struggle after the more accessible sounds just prior. That being said, I’m in that first category and proudly – I’m always stoked to figure out what George is up to and where he’ll take us next. He’s got a whole cast of characters here…a literal one…I believe these names he’s reading out over this beat are all from Dickens’ novels if I’m not mistaken. Haven’t read too much myself…a couple books here & there…but I’m 99% sure that’s what’s going on here. I think the music is seriously cool personally…I love the mysterious & vibrant sounds he’s working with on this tune…and personally, being a huge fan of spoken-word in many forms, this is right up my alley in terms of that combination of art & music I so often crave and want to stuff my face with. I do run into this feeling occasionally…where I suppose I wonder if that like…Randy Newman style of relaying information that seems to be like, listed off from what’s right there in front of him…is something other people would pick up on, or what they might think of it. You’ll notice this on “Aim With The Wrecking Ball” as well…these two tracks back-to-back have a similar approach to the vocals in that sense. Sometimes that pace George can have when he’s performing feels like he’s scanning around the room for inspiration on what to say next…and maybe he is, who knows? I kind of envision this like, Bat-Cave like place below the surface of his house that he slides down a fireman’s pole into, to be surrounded by a massive library of literature where Batman used to keep his computers, to inspire him while he rocks that Cave back & forth creating tunes like “Charles Dickens.” But that might just be me. Again, I still think there’s plenty to offer your ears on a cut like this one – it’s likely a bit more challenging and less straight-ahead for some people out there, but it’s A-OK with me.
As far as “Aim With The Wrecking Ball” is concerned, I think he also ratchets-up that accessibility factor more from where “Charles Dickens” will leave ya. I mean…this is seriously addictive sound, ain’t it? The amount of intensity and melody, combined, is killer! Great pace to this tune and I really dig the entire vibe…the electro-sounds of this tune really dance right through your speakers. And just as you realize that he’s giving a direct shout-out to David Bowie in one of the parts of the verse, it’s only moments later where he’ll remind himself to go ‘easy with the name drop’ – which honestly had me laughing out loud due to the cleverness on the timing and how it comes up likely around the same time you might actually be thinking that yourself. That being said, he chooses to go against his own advice and immediately continues into a whole bunch more names you’ll recognize and different aspects of our culture along the way. What’s interesting to me…or at least what I felt like went over my head much higher on this tune than perhaps any of the others…was I couldn’t quite figure out where this wrecking ball comes into play. Like as in, was he saying to “Aim With The Wrecking Ball” in a way like, to make sure we know which parts of our culture we might obliterate? Why wreck any of it in that sense? So I figure that can’t be it. And then you add in the shout-outs to some pretty key & kickass artists and different references to things you might have an affinity towards…and you’re like, why aim at any of this? I mean…George is also saying specifically to be ‘easy with the wrecking ball’ as well…so I’d assume he would want to avoid smashing some of these things he’s listing here just as much as we would too. So then why swing the wrecking ball around at all is what I’m saying? Why not just turn the machine off and go have a sandwich on a lunch break instead? And therein lies that extra layer of mystery…George is still choosing to operate the machine here on “Aim With The Wrecking Ball” – so one would have to assume that some of this stuff he’s speaking on are things that he might feel deserve the smashing too, otherwise he would just be having that sandwich & sitting off to the side instead of swinging it, right? Like I said earlier…I would be the last to claim that I always get what he’s going for thematically – but I love the way he makes the hamster on the wheel of my brain run for his freakin’ LIFE to try & keep up. Plus I really dig the Cure-like synth-vibes that come into this tune just prior to the two-minute mark – I was already loving the sound of this cut from moment one – which is WHY I sit here and try to ponder what the heck he means with such effort…but I might have to surrender on this tune when it comes to its ultimate meanings and settle for the few theories I’ve got while turning this right up to enjoy it more.
Just a piece though people, remember…that’s all we need and that’s the team we’re all on together here – just catch a piece of what George is getting at, and likely, he’d be stoked to play any role, however big or small, in our evolution or at the very least, attaching a tiny nugget of knowledge to your braincells where once none had existed before. Like take “Isambard Kingdom Brunel” for example, which for me, was just a coincidental collection of random characters assembled in a row for me to read before I plugged it into Google. Or, rather, correction – I think I got about as far as “Isam…” before the rest automatically popped up and I started to learn about the process of civil engineering & whatnot that the person, “Isambard Kingdom Brunel” was responsible for. You know, just like all the OTHER “Isambard Kingdom Brunels” that you’ve met in life right? Totally common name, I know, I know. And YES I recognize the irony in what I’m writing when it’s the fact that his name would be so incredibly uncommon that you’d totally remember it…that is, if you had heard it before. I can say definitively, that I know that I would, which is how I know I’ve never heard or read it myself…which is actually kind of…well…ignorant really! I know we can’t all know everything of course…we all have our niches and I’d be fully willing to take anyone on in the music-department when it comes to knowledge…but outside of that realm, I know such precious little that sometimes it’s downright embarrassing. Alien Skin makes that admission much more okay…I can LEARN things from this music; and there’s an argument to be made that it’s the only way I actually CAN learn anything at all…so I’m more than willing to be a pupil and listen to the things George is talking about & singing about on his songs…that’s evolution baby! And it’s history…and it’s also incredibly spectacular to listen to. I didn’t even recognize at first that my favorite sonic element and addition to this song was actually the name itself being sung out; it’s twisted with an excellent effect that nearly makes “Isambard Kingdom Brunel” unrecognizable and just another killer sound in the sea of them that create this ear-catching cut…but eventually, I caught on. It’s a genius-level hook that’s so brilliantly subtle it’ll almost fly right by ya if you’re not paying attention. Like I said, I’m not always the quickest in the race…but if you toss out enough breadcrumbs for me to follow, eventually I like to think I’ll show up at the party before the night is done. By the end of my time with “Isambard Kingdom Brunel” was over, I wasn’t just convinced I’d learned something, I was fairly convinced that the hooks and pull towards this tune could be stronger than most of the tracks on this record…almost indefinable really; there’s just something I absolutely love about this whole composition.
ALL of this being said – and I know, I get it, I’ve said a lot already – sometimes it’s nice to just chill out with a tiny tune and not have to think too much…and I think George had sensed that anyone taking a ride on his train needed a quaint moment of reprieve, which he supplies through the gentle electro of “Endsong.” Ain’t gonna lie to ya – it was harder to discern the stretched-out words on this tune to the point where I’m sure I didn’t catch all that many of them, no matter how I tried…or at least at first. Eventually I figured it out by snagging that one little piece, and the rest became clear…”Endsong” actually reads out the titles of each tune in a robotic-meets-melodic fashion – that’s a clever idea. And a good move to put it at the end of course…almost like the ending credits in a way. Smart move with the different vocals and effects applied, continuously inviting & sweet sounds in the electro-music bouncing pleasantly all around ya…”Endsong” is a nice break from all the thinking and lets you relax for a moment.
Instead of P.O.P. Pop being over though, George has saved once last shot of intensity & emotion for “Isn’t It Cliché” at the very end of the record to end this album on strong ground, similar in that epicness to which it all began. I know I’ve spent a lot of time on content throughout this review…theorizing about what his songs may/may not be about – but let me be clear at the end – the recording and production on this entire album is freakin’ phenomenal. A truly killer effort put in on this album by George…the dynamics and clarity stand out magnificently – and you get a truly solid dose of that aspect here at the end on “Isn’t It Cliché.” There is always so much impressive attention to detail, bold sound, and incredibly expressive aspects to the music of Alien Skin…this final cut might even present that to people even more than any of the rest…that’s a pretty damn irresistible low-end groove that rocks throughout the bulk of “Isn’t It Cliché” that I’d be willing to bet people won’t spend much time trying to fight off. No lie – he ain’t exactly ending this experience on the happiest of notes with “Isn’t It Cliché” – but he is undeniably ending this album with spectacular sound and a powerful display of accessibility & sound you’ll definitely want to hear…and of course repeat.
Remarkable record all-around from Alien Skin. I’ve heard a lot of these tunes from George over the years, as I’ve already pointed out…so I feel like I can say with confidence, this is the best I’ve heard him so far. I think he’s made a really exceptional record with P.O.P. Pop – one that I’ll probably still be trying to fully figure out years from now…but if that ain’t a reason to return, I really don’t know what is.
Find out more about Alien Skin from the official website at: http://alienskinmusic.com