Michael Regina – A Far Better World – Album Review
Don’t mistake a chilled-out sound for a weak work ethic – this is Michael Regina’s FOURTH album this YEAR! How are you feeling about those two songs you’ve been working on for the past year and a half now? Feeling like it’s probably time to maybe wrap those up? And then like, you know, write another fifty or sixty songs in an effort to catch up? I know that’s how I was feeling the moment I read about that…but I also soon realized that it’d likely be foolish to attempt to keep up with such inspiration or try to force it on my own. No doubt like Michael would tell you himself, when it’s flowing, it’s flowing – the less you force it and the more naturally the music comes to you, the better off your art will be. But the main point is, recognize awesomeness when you read about something like that – any of you artists or even bands (maybe especially bands actually) know full-well that four albums in a year is no easy task.
The opening track “Genesis 1” will give you an excellent glimpse of the cinematic style that Michael often dives headlong into and the sonic depths he’ll reach. The video created to support it…quite honestly…is nothing short of brilliant. The song itself SOUNDS like a soundtrack to a magnificent moment in time onscreen…like something epic is truly coming our way as the gentle hum becomes more present and the song evolves like the sun rises – so to have a video that echoes this majesty in music so well is pretty freakin’ awesome to witness, I gotta say. “Genesis 1” gets a completely complementary treatment with a gigantic movie-trailer like video that gives you tons of information you’ll want to know about the album, all visually displayed through outer-space scenes, making it seem as massive of an event as the dawning of mankind would have been. How cool is that right? It’s almost like none of us even existed until this record came out! Michael Regina is clearly focused on all aspects of his music and career – I think this video came out extraordinarily well; it felt like a tongue-in-cheek approach to the grandiose nature of the expansive sound that really brings a smile to your face when you see how it celebrates its epicness. Somehow – and this is where the real magic of Michael is on display perhaps – because of this insightful combination of mediums, he’s elevated what’s clearly not designed as a ‘single’ and used this song’s introductory style to the complete advantage of serving the entire album as a whole…check this out!
With A Far Better World officially opened and welcoming you in through “Genesis 1,” the album continues on weaving gentle melodies, serene atmospheres, and blissful sounds. “Tomorrow’s Realm” snaps into subtle synth sounds & a chilled-out beat, 80’s era production & style, and really smart melody lines threaded expertly into the layers. I dig that “Tomorrow’s Realm” wakens the energy on A Far Better World and gets the music moving strongly forward after the album’s opening introduction…in some respects this second tune remains a bit static in the dusty gear it finds for its sound, but as an overall vibe & moment in time, it definitely works. It’s got groove, it’s got rhythm, it’s got smart ideas in the synth sounds and deep emotional threads that develop in the melody-lines; it might not change a ton from beginning to end, but each subtle move made is one that ends up counting for something important. Think of it as ‘all killer, no filler’ as they say; Michael’s trimmed the fat and kept the necessary elements that set the attitude & mood of “Tomorrow’s Realm” to a simplified list of ingredients that all contribute to a memorably chill meal for the mind that soars with comforting sound.
Serving up an early highlight on the record, Michael moves sleekly into “Continue M,” which, once you get to the fifty-second mark, you’ll hear this artist shift gears once again and really start to get this album on the move. I loved this cut…the twinkling electro elements and production often reminded me of Tortoise, but like, with the style & sound of Peace Orchestra…however you want to describe the combination of sounds you’ll hear, you’ll like’em. Definitely a stand-out cut from the lefts to the rights, Michael goes on a seriously innovative trip with all the creativity put into this track – and let’s face facts, that low-end rhythm is completely awesome to listen to. Providing the backbone to build on, that reliable bass infusion allows him to get even wilder in the ideas surrounding & supporting it – and he does. The allure of the opening to “Continue M” shines through its shimmering & curious sounds…and that intense & rich rhythm it leads into is a switch you’d never see coming on that first time around. Making an impact not only through that switching of gears but through the amazing selection of tones, textures, and sounds he’s combined on “Continue M” – once this song makes that shift, it never quits groovin’ from there – and you’ll never want it to. LISTEN to the clever interaction between timing & tempo on this cut as well…the way these layers play together is brilliantly fresh to hear and by the end of this tune you’ll be able to hear how effective & pronounced this aspect of the song becomes.
With heavy, reflective, and soulful emotion, Michael takes us into one of my favorite compositions on A Far Better World, a song called “Peace And Time.” Kind of almost hard to describe this one for ya really – it’s a song that you can feel…it’s so much more than just a mere listening experience…like it’s been a part of you all along and you’re reconnecting with the emotions the melody presents you with. It could be the way that I’m hearing it personally, but I found there was a truly moving and beautiful melancholy that ran through “Peace And Time” – some out there might argue it’s more of a combination of serenity & sincerity. Again, I don’t think there’s any wrong way to classify it – do that however you like – but let’s again acknowledge awesomeness where awesomeness is to be found – this song is amazing. I know that not everyone out there gets right into pensive atmospheres like I do…I know not everyone out there loves a slow-jam as much as I do too…but I’m telling ya, if you’re somehow missing the incredible amount of emotion that Michael pours into the sound of “Peace And Time,” then you’re fundamentally missing out on a huge aspect of what makes music connect to our souls, our thoughts, our feelings. “Peace And Time” will speak right to the core of your being…I really think that, for me and possibly for many people out there, this particular track will be the unsung hero of A Far Better World and a strong part of what pulls us back to listen to this album time & time again in the future to follow.
I think Michael takes a slight risk in coupling the bright vibes of “Lullaby In The Stars” right after the heavier vibes of “Peace And Time” – as inviting as the sounds may be, in context of the album, it’s actually one of the more jarring moments in this switch between styles. Like when you hear how well “Peace And Time” might have flowed into the album’s title-track and the vibe Michael creates there, it’ll make you wonder about breaking those two up with this sweetened sound. That being said – I think the way that “Lullaby In The Stars” evolves, particularly once it reaches its second minute, more than makes up for the adjustment we have to make in listening – that’s an immaculate switch right there is what that is. I also think that ultimately, this song delivers on what it promises in the ‘lullaby’ aspect – in many ways, it sounds like one, albeit, for adults I’d suppose. Still a good tune…undecided about its placement overall, but I do still like what I’m hearing here and think it presents another side of the dynamics of sound that Michael can work so competently with. Another decidedly different approach, it’s still cohesive enough to enjoy with the rest of the tunes…it’s close…I think this one all comes down to where it falls on the record in terms of whether or not people will ‘hear it’ on those first couple spins. Definitely one of the toughest spots to fill on the entire album between the title tune & “Peace And Time,” but I think there are multiple points of redemption in the latter half of this cut that more than make the grade.
“A Far Better World” brings in an emphatic low-end that makes a huge impression when you first hear it – like, C’MON it’s amazing to hear it jump into the mix just past the thirty-five second mark, and from there, Regina finds a way to expertly sink it into the mix and develop the atmosphere strongly to support it. Whether that’s by dialing it back slightly or bringing up the surrounding elements in the music to rise to the occasion, everything is crystal clear and really allows this expressive tune to work its magic. The whole song feels like a genuine journey in sound…really taking you somewhere in your mind visually as the mood hangs in the air; excellent breakdown just prior to the three-minute mark and a solid bring-back to the end. Using synth-strings to fuel the melody as Michael takes this song to its finale, the tension in the air of this tune is magnificent to listen to; as bold as it is inquisitive & curious in sound.
Thematically-speaking, I think he’s found himself another really focused tune with the sounds on “Lunar Lounge” giving you such a spacious and chill vibe to slip into. Like many of Michael’s tunes, listening to what’s happening in the background layers of a song like “Lunar Lounge” is as rewarding as hearing what’s happening up front in the mix. Like, I love that electro pulse that’s nestled so brilliantly into this cut…with the bright electro-string sounds on top, you almost don’t even realize just how much these lower-tones contribute & contrast perfectly along the way…but if you get right into it and really listen, it’s an audible complement at all times. The gradual build of “Lunar Lounge” takes its time to develop, but the payoff is certainly there – the remarkably chilled-out beat & groove of this cut that comes in around the 1:20 mark is so immaculately smooth that I can’t imagine it not appealing to everyone out there on some level, whether that’s through the stunning choices of sounds being used or the genuinely sincere dimensions of emotions that the combination creates, you’ll find something to love. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it was my favorite of the bunch, but I would argue that the free-floating vibe in this anti-gravity atmosphere again shows the focus of Michael Regina from the concept to the execution.
“Cool Space” brings in an avant-garde & experimental jazziness into the mix for a short burst of sound. Only a couple seconds longer than the intro to the record was with “Genesis 1,” it’s a bit like an interlude of sorts and actually quite a departure from anything else you’ll hear on A Far Better World – but it’s definitely another ambitious pursuit that’s brought out some real ingenuity from Regina. Every time you’ll listen to this record, I can guarantee you that “Cool Space” will stand out – how about that? Probably the best way I can put it. Oddly enough, as different as this cut truly is from everything that surrounds it on this album, I still felt like this completely fit. The cohesion exists completely in the choices of sounds that Michael likes to use – so even though he decides to punch this track full of energy like it’s been brought to you by Red Bull, it still sounds like “Cool Space” belongs on this album. A more than welcome break in the chilled-out vibes that Michael has created throughout A Far Better World, “Cool Space” serves its purpose in reenergizing & engaging your mind for the final three tunes to begin.
The slowly moving “Light Years Away” makes enough moves to keep you engaged and develops quite an interesting set of sounds as it heads towards its mid-section. Overall, it might be a bit too close to the kind of vibe that “Dream Within A Dream” will create only two songs later to finish the record off…it’s hard to say…it’s definitely the beginning of a stretch of three songs that will gently ease you out of A Far Better World to go back into your own. What I did really like about “Light Years Away” was that incredible distance you can feel in the atmosphere of this tune…like what it would actually sound like in Major Tom’s mind spinning out of control out there while floating in his tin can in space. Presented in a nearly Pink Floyd like style & sound, I think you gotta hand it to Michael for being able to take you so far away from your own world and into his on a track like “Light Years Away.” It’s a deepened, thought-provoking or at the very least thought-inducing sound that allows your mind to really wander and drift along with the song…all at a pace that’s comforting & inviting like there’s no rush at all; you can leave the hustle of your daily grind & sink right into the depths of the full scope of this idea – my ears dig that.
I really like how Regina’s music always includes Ambient & Electro, but how it seems to incorporate a vibrant Post-Punk vibe into the mix quite often. So much of the sounds and songs he creates stick and cling to your bones, combining light & dark in contrast superbly and providing real definition to the ideas of each song. Like anyone that has ever listened to how the keyboards contribute to the music of The Cure would completely dig what he’s got going on throughout this record, and certainly on a song like “With Honor” that opens this emotional vein of sound up even more. Loved the addition of the harp towards the middle of the song and in general, really felt like the subtle & tense drama & theatrics of this song really hit the mark. The big gong splashes were excellent, and the way that Michael begins to add more drums into mix with the crispy snare sounds towards the end to bring this song up just that one step further before the end was another smart move. It’s a heavy tune emotionally, but that powerful connection between Michael’s music and the decisive conviction in the way he plays it gives it an uplifting vibe that also runs triumphantly through this tune, getting stronger as it goes on.
Michael ended this record on an exceptional highlight. Not only have I enjoyed the entire length of this album, but the slow, dreamy crawl through this last warm & glowing tune capped off the whole experience with exceptional beauty – this final tune is seriously stunning. In a sense, it leans a bit more further towards the ambient-side of Regina’s music than any of these tunes do…but the way that “Dream Within A Dream” flows right through you and fills your soul will leave you more than satisfied. I think this is a masterful use of subtlety and restraint here; “Dream Within A Dream” is calm, controlled, and highly effective. Right in what’s nearly the direct middle of this tune, you’ll hear that clean break, which I’d assume would essentially be the audible reference to the actual “Dream Within A Dream” would it not? It’s moves like this and the focus that Michael’s applied in so much of the attention to detail on this entire album that has truly made this entire listening experience go so far beyond expectation. The amazing melodies that he creates in the atmosphere of the final two-to-three minutes of this song are breathtakingly beautiful examples of how deep this man’s connection to music truly goes – the sincerity & emotion he brings to the surface of A Far Better World’s final moments shine with the genuine authenticity that can only be reached by an artist that really understands what they want to communicate. Michael’s an exceptional communicator through his music – he hasn’t needed a single word to do the talking for him – he’s created a compelling set list full of heartfelt and textural songs that will speak to you better than words ever could. Excellent record all-around and a spectacular effort that’s full of dedication, attention to detail, authentic ideas, and truly moving & powerful compositions.
Find out more about Michael Regina at his official website at: https://www.michaelregina.com