Alien Skin – Cold War Pop – Album Review
Talk about an impact! Alien Skin is never really all that far from my mind or my playlists to begin with, and yet here I see it’s actually been more than a year since we last reviewed one of these records by the ol’ George Pappas project we know & love. I’m always stoked to hear what this guy creates next – and if you look throughout our history in listening to Alien Skin, you’ll find this absence to be the longest one on record since we first started listening back in 2017! More than 365 days away seems like a virtual lifetime for Alien Skin…I’d be betting that Cold War Pop is the start of a big year of production in 2021.
Speaking OF production! Good lord if that’s not the very first thing you’ll notice as the bounce of sounds shared between the lefts & rights begins on “Cold War Pop” as the album begins…I mean…just stop – your ears are broken or you’re in desperate need of a Q-tip. Exquisite start! George does a ton of things extremely well, which is more than documented throughout the legacy of music he’s created and reviews I’ve personally written here…but no lie, this might very well be the most engaging opening he’s created as the gateway into any record you’ll find in his catalog to-date. For Pop-based music, believe me, you’ll notice how the intensity separates this song from so much of what’s out there – Alien Skin is right on the edge of New Wave here, with an inherent hint of Post-Punk in the mix…ultimately, there’s a savagely entertaining hybrid of sound on “Cold War Pop” that you can’t help but dig right into immediately. Either you get the beat, or the beat’ll get you – one way or the other, between the clever vocal rhythms that George is singing with, or the neon-vibes of “Cold War Pop” all swirling around ya – you can’t help but hear the stunning level of professionalism in the music of Alien Skin right from the drop as this new record begins, and shortly after notice just how addictive it becomes so quickly.
MAYBE it’s a case of absence making the heart grow fonder…I can concede that’s always a possibility after a length of time…but…like…I mean…c’mon now – Alien Skin is sounding in freakin’ fantastic form as this album begins folks; I’m just reporting the facts as they are, straight-up. The MOST you’ll find me givin’ ya here that would work against “My Machine” would be to simply say it’s likely not going to make as immediate of an impact or generate quite as much excitement as “Cold War Pop” will with the listeners out there at the very beginning…but no one out there should mistake that for this still being anything less than a solid tune to the nth degree. Personally, I still think it’s insanely interesting to listen to with its slow-burning songwriting & melody as it develops and revs up its engine, I’m just willing to acknowledge that the hooks run a bit deeper here is all. Nothing that should stop people from getting into the groove here, and within a couple spins of Cold War Pop, I have no doubt they’ll likely come to the conclusion that while it’s not quite the vibrant intensity of “Cold War Pop” to start, it’s darkened rhythms still more than hit the mark of satisfaction & offer a different dimension of the Alien Skin sound we all love. Remaining somewhat in that gear of spread out synth-sound & carefully planned, precision movement, George will go on to groove with similar spaced-out style on “Someone With Your Name” right afterwards, creating a solid one-two combo of steady grooves that keep the ingredients fairly minimal, while achieving the maximum potential through production & performance. All-in-all, both tracks two & three are noticeably more subtle in their demeanor than the level of intensity you’ll find in the opening cut; there’s no question that Alien Skin came bursting out of the gate & then specifically chose to dial back the energy thereafter; and there’s always a lil risk in that approach.
“I Say I Do But” – I feel like I hear ya on this title George my man. Like, I feel like I like it…but… I’ll say this, I’m not opposed to its inclusion…and it’s got a synth riff that bursts out in 3D that’s real hard to resist, along with the stellar vocal rhythms at work creating hooks on at least a couple significant levels that’ll ensure no one out there is reaching to simply skip over this tune, which to be fair, I wouldn’t either myself. Does it further the story of Alien Skin…does it strengthen the album…does it do enough? These would be more valid questions to be asked, and I’m not 100% sure I could answer definitively on that…chances are, it’ll depend on how much of the previous catalog & the moves & grooves of the past and whether or not you’re totally familiar with this project like I am, or just finding your way onto the bandwagon now. “I Say I Do But” is ultimately quite a danceable cut when it comes right down to it, however sparse it might seem – Alien Skin isn’t working with much other than the bare-bones framework of this particular idea, but again, the results are pretty damn tough to complain about. While we might be trading a bit of extra detail, what we seem to be receiving is a mastery of the clarity in sound and refinement of the Alien Skin style in return…and that might well be a worthy trade to make for many of you out there when it comes to listening to Cold War Pop, it’s hard to say. All I can tell ya is what I personally hear, as always – I like “I Say I Do But” I LOVED “West Berlin Or Die Trying” from the drop of moment one. The difference in two moments like these, at least to me, is undeniable folks.
But this is also no secret to George of Alien Skin either – in fact, this is what you’ll read directly in the press release that comes along with Cold War Pop, which goes on to say: “It is bleak and mechanical at times, at other times beautiful and human. It is what it is.” Far be it from me to tell the man that created all this awesomeness that he’s wrong – I think that’s about as bang on of an assessment as I could ever hope to make myself, and much more succinct & to the point. But with respect to that quote, “West Berlin Or Die Trying” is absolutely the latter case, with the human element & spirit radiating from the synthetic heart of this melody…Pappas has done an exceptional job in finding the sweetness here and laced this song with stunning imagery in his words. The pulse driving this atmospheric gem is absolutely awesome, and the notes that get added to it, ringing out into the air with all their spectacular digital tones…I mean…all it takes is at least one functioning ear to understand that Alien Skin has nailed “West Berlin Or Die Trying” as hard as possible by the most delicate of means. To me, everything from its mesmerizing pace to its spectacular array of sounds emanating throughout its course, along with another stellar performance from George on the mic, all stacks up to a big win here.
He’s far from done at this point on Cold War Pop – technically, we’re only hitting the halfway mark right now – but think of “Charlie Bravo Safehouse” like you just flipped your cassette over from Side-A to B – you’ll hear the renewed energy & vigor snap back into the mix when this song starts up right away. Shifting the gears from one way or the other can always come with some sort of strange response from listeners out there…like for example, mine in between the first & second songs on this record – but when it works, your ears just accept it as readily as if it was music you had made yourself. The slide from the sincerity & synthetic-soulfully driven “West Berlin Or Die Trying” into “Charlie Bravo Safehouse” has pretty much the opposite effect we experienced earlier on, this time giving all our ears something to be genuinely excited about as the energy transitions once again at the start of the second half. You’d pretty much have to be made of stone to somehow resist the powerful groove that Pappas has so expertly threaded into this tune…and when you get right into it, you’ll notice how each carefully placed sound and movement really adds up to a spectacular listen here – like, for instance, the wild layers he’s put into the vocals is so well done, many people might not even notice it at first! Then when you take a real close listen, you realize that George is more or less singing along with his own shadow here, almost in a duet between the light & the dark as he makes his way through “Charlie Bravo Safehouse.” With the additional vocal samples in German adding an even more haunting aspect to the Cold War vibes he’s created here, “Charlie Bravo Safehouse” becomes as thought-provoking as it is entertaining, and once again reveals a stunning level of high-quality sound that simply cannot be beat.
“Fad Gadget” is appropriately named and quite apt. Lyrically, he’s referring to something novel, which is kind of what this cut was for me…somewhat of a novelty, nearly working with a musical gimmick of sorts. As I often say, I’m never gonna be the guy to begrudge someone out there just rocking out for the sake of doing just that & nothing more – you trade substance for flash with “Fad Gadget” for sure, but in terms of songwriting & cohesion, you’d have to assume that this is exactly what Alien Skin has intended. As to whether or not that’ll make for a song that holds up over time or quickly passes as we’re onto the next is a much more wide-open question here. Go ahead and try it for yourself though, just say “Fad Gadget” out loud, wherever you are right now – you’ll hear the cadence of these two words combined already creates a hook in itself…and really, I’m not so sure George was able to give it up, or pass on it when presented with how natural it rolls right out. Can’t say I blame the guy in that respect, and it’s not like it’s ever been done – you’ll run into this one “Fad Gadget” and I can promise ya you’ll surely never run into another…so the uniqueness is still there overall, but this one did sound a bit more easy for George by comparison to so much of the rest on this record & what he’s accomplished in the past as well. I still ain’t skipping over it personally, but as I’ve said from moment one here, I’m an Alien Skin fan.
It’s “Shooting Of A Bricklayer” that would likely tempt me most to skip forward, and I still wouldn’t do it. Lyrically, I think he’s got a fantastic tune here…it’s the rest I think becomes…let’s say more difficult to absorb this time around. Musically, it’s got some good ideas…and really when it comes right down to it, I appreciate what he’s going for here vocally, I just didn’t think it quite reached that same level of quality in the melodic design is all…George is reaching a bit here, and it’s noticeable in comparison to the rest for sure. So while I felt like it was generally the instrumental sections in between the vocals that tended to stand out the most within “Shooting Of A Bricklayer” – I’d still be more than inclined to encourage WHAT George is doing on this song, even if I wasn’t as much of a fan of the results in the end. Let’s face it, he’s got a very distinct style and approach that he uses for the vast majority of what he sings and it applies to every record we’ve heard from him to-date…hearing him switch it up even just a little is going to make a BIG impact, one way or the other, for better, or for worse. I think he’s got the production absolutely rockin’ to max capacity once again with another outstanding mix on “Shooting Of A Bricklayer” – that was my main positive takeaway from this particular cut; but like I said, even though I’m more unsure of the results here, I absolutely respect the ambitious nature of his vocals on this song and the desire to flex the creativity in that aspect of his music a little bit more…that makes sense to me.
“I’m In Love With CWSP.” Wait – what? Isn’t that like…Wi-Fi? I mean, I’m not disputing George’s love here, I’m just trying to narrow down what the heck it is he’s loving ON via my Google search here in attempting to figure out what the CWSP part of this title means. And like…well…we all gotta love SOMETHING in this life right? Why not a whole bunch of ones & zeroes and electrical language and the many pulses of power that surge through the digitalized world of George Pappas in Alien Skin? Maybe YOU have a different definition of what love is – have you ever considered that? This guy’s got every right and reason to love his electronic impulses – they’ve essentially made him the man & artist he is today! Being a technologically-inclined tune, the mechanical aspect of Alien Skin’s music comes through this tune more than you’ll find on most, inducing that cold & distant, removed feeling from the passion on purpose through the performance, but always present in the songwriting design and stellar attention to details. He’ll make his own argument soundly through the words and imagery of this song, even going so far as to point out personal influences like Kraftwerk & Bowie that have been more than happy to embrace the digital realm & supply what it has to offer in terms of creative flexibility in style & sound.
So while there’s almost no doubt in my mind that “Cold War Pop” starts this record up with what’s likely to be revered as its most inarguably universal cut, and certainly my own favorite from this particular record as well…it’s not like I felt like there was nowhere to go but down, so much as the rest to follow becomes a lateral move that’s well in-line with the consistency & quality we associate with Alien Skin. “I Might As Well Be Dead” finishes off Cold War Pop on solid-but-icy terrain, keeping a sharp focus on the texture & sensory sound that’s worked so brilliantly throughout this record the entire time. George also ends up putting himself out there further with the way he sings this last cut as well, and without question reaches a more accessible sound in his voice that kind of confirms what he was going for in “Shooting Of A Bricklayer” is in fact something he’s more than capable of. While “I Might As Well Be Dead” definitely implies that…well…it’s not gonna be the happiest tune you’ll hear, but at the same time, if you’re considering the lyrics, the sentiment, and the meaning behind them all…it’s kind of the ultimate love song at the same time, twisted as the concept may be. That idea that, when we lose the person we love most…and we’d rather choose to just cease to be…I think just about everyone who has ever loved & lost can completely appreciate the web of emotions & feelings to be found in this final cut. Essentially, if you haven’t thought to yourself “I Might As Well Be Dead” at the end of a relationship – have you ever really even LOVED at all? That would be the question I’d be asking yourself in listening to this tune…because it’s pretty natural to feel this way, and Pappas hit the nail straight on with the curious demeanor of this final tune…almost like he’s pushing this concept out lightly in return for our permission somehow, of which of course we’d all deny, because obviously we want more of that good-good retro-style Alien Skin music to come in the future to follow still. He ain’t gettin’ out of our speakers that easy, that much I can tell ya – I’d happily rock through Cold War Pop just as much as I have with pretty much every record by Alien Skin that’s out there – if you dig what this dude does, you’ll like what you find here; and if you’re just getting into this project now, this set-list should contain more than enough to entertain ya in-full with its steady consistency, stellar production, and the uniqueness of George’s style.
Find out more about Alien Skin from the official website at: https://www.alienskinmusic.com
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