Alien Skin – New Romance: 1984 – Album Review
Well done my friend.
I’d imagine the last thing I’d need to tell George Pappas, the artist behind the music of Alien Skin, is that he has the ability to write over most of our heads. It’s something that’s likely worked for and against him at times over the years since we’ve been listening, which traces all the way back to 2016 at this point. For those out there that really appreciate an artist that digs right into the music they make and allows it to take them right down the rabbit-hole as far as it can take you – then you’ve been on this dude’s side from day one like we’ve been. For others, there’s no doubt that at times he’d cause a few of you to do a double-take and wonder what the heck he’s been on about…he can get pretty involved and outright complex, which of course can be quite demanding on the everyday listener. While the man has always put together something incredibly rewarding to listen to, I’ll fully admit, that even I’ve struggled to keep up to him on a conceptual level at times; this would be my sixth review on Alien Skin and at this point, I know full well to make sure I’m prepared for an artistically heady experience. The potential for this project to reach into the beyond to create real art in music is always ever-present. Let me be clear though – you’re guaranteed to always find something completely worth listening to, but you never really know before pushing play just how much brainwork will be required from your end until you hear it.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that George makes art for art’s sake – accessibility has never been the number one priority; if it happens to be accessible, fantastic – but it’s never been his main goal. That being said, I think he’s probably achieved his most universally enjoyable record with New Romance: 1984, I found myself slipping right into the Electro/Synthwave grooves he’s created here without any hesitation and I’d fully imagine the experience would be much the same for everyone else listening.
Listening to the ultra-slick beginning he’s created with “The Rubber Room,” you can hear right from moment one that George is focused, completely in control, and ready to make music that moves ya. Give his name a quick Google and you’ll see he’s been a professional for years & years now – and he certainly sounds like it instantly on New Romance: 1984. Not only is the sheer sound of the bouncy movement of the music on “The Rubber Room” massively enticing to listen to, but vocally, this first song immediately sounded like one of his best performances. From the lead vocals to the background, the ideas he puts forth are engaging, precise, and stocked full of highly interesting lyricism that pulls you in. A master of pace, structure, and space, “The Rubber Room” pumps out a beat with real teeth to it, and the contrasting chilled-out nature of his vocals ended up being an insightful pairing for sure – there’s tons of melody to absorb from every angle here, making for the perfect gateway into the rest of the set.
The brilliantly titled “She Looks A Lot Like Martin Gore From 1984” continues to add impressive depth at the beginning of this record. While that description is likely…hmm…perhaps not the great compliment to whomever ‘she’ is based on pictures you can find from Depeche Mode’s original keyboardist/guitarist – there’s no doubt that this is one of the strongest and most innovative cuts you’ll find on this album. Even the fact that “She Looks A Lot Like Martin Gore From 1984” isn’t just a clever title, but actually the main vocal hook of the chorus, speaks volumes for how creative George Pappas and Alien Skin can be. Seriously strong verse from Pappas, and an even stronger chorus – this is one hell of a bulletproof song that’s got solid Post-Punk overtones and hooks in complete abundance. It’s definitely one of those tunes that truly makes you wonder about what it would be like to be George with all the ideas that roam so freely through the thoughts in his mind – but when you hear how impressively he can bring the concepts he comes up with out of his head and into the studio when he’s recording, you can’t help but really sit & listen to how all-out fascinating a song like “She Looks A Lot Like Martin Gore From 1984” is. It’s freakin’ genius when it comes right down to it…every single time this cut came on in listening to New Romance: 1984, I felt myself appreciating just how unique, special, and straight-up remarkable Alien Skin is at its finest. Love the flash & bite of the guitars when they show up, love the low-end synth rhythms, love the vocal-effects when they’re used, and I probably love the main lead from George unfiltered even more – everything sounds fantastic, and ultimately it’s the songwriting & structure that lead him to success here. Powered by perfect execution, this is a wonderfully exceptional song that’s built to last…when I hear “She Looks A Lot Like Martin Gore From 1984,” I can hear that I’ll always have time for a track like this – Pappas is nailing it here from beginning to end with stunning music & vocals.
Depeche Mode likely serves as a huge inspiration to what Alien Skin creates overall, if not most certainly upon this very record. You could definitely hear the comparison even more in songs like “She’s Glass” following the titular reference made in “She Looks A Lot Like Martin Gore From 1984” with all the hand-claps, synthetic sounds, and the big-big chorus moments of this third song on New Romance: 1984. On the first couple spins though the new Alien Skin record, I wasn’t quite as sure that “She’s Glass” had quite enough juice for where it sits in the lineup of songs – but as I kept on spinning it, I came to realize that the chorus of this song has one of the most successful hooks you’ll hear in any tune from this album. Alien Skin might dive into a more artistically-inclined set of ideas in the verse of “She’s Glass,” but the impact that this part of the song helps create in the switch to the chorus can’t be understated – it’s impossible to know what it would sound like without this pairing, but suffice it to say, it’s the contrast between the track’s two main elements that really has each aspect standing out brilliantly. After spending a lot of time with this record, you end up completely appreciating how clever this cut is; from the killer way the atmosphere closes in on ya with the added synths springing to life around the forty-five second mark, to the hugeness you’ll find in the chorus of “She’s Glass” – it all hits the mark. Considering it’s got one of the toughest spots in the lineup to fill coming after “She Looks A Lot Like Martin Gore From 1984” – I actually think it was an extremely wise choice to let “She’s Glass” build up like it does before releasing the payload of its massively accessible chorus. You could sing along with this loud’n’proud once it hits the main hooks of “She’s Glass” – and I’d fully imagine that people will be.
The real magic of a record like New Romance: 1984 is completely prevalent when listening to a song like “When The Wind Blows Mary.” A great example of a track whereby, if you were somehow to be able to examine its blueprint on paper without actually hearing it, you’d likely think it might not work at all – but not only does this work, it fully reveals the true innovative genius of George Pappas in full bloom. Because there ain’t no doubt about how easily the catchiness of the music will grab ya – but that’s not really what makes this song work as well as it does – it’s actually the main hooks of the vocals that is the most powerful element of “When The Wind Blows Mary” that’ll have you coming back to this song time & time again. And when you hear it for the first time, it might even make you raise an eyebrow or two in wondering how the hell he came up with this one…it’s essentially as odd and anti-typical as it is completely captivating & fully compelling. When you combine the awesomeness of the rhythm & flow, the stunning way that George sings this song, and the authenticity you’ll find in its uniqueness, it leaves you with little choice but to surrender and come to the conclusion that “When The Wind Blows Mary” is not just one of the album’s most stellar cuts, but one that exposes how creative Alien Skin can truly be.
Things chill out with “Darkroom Sanctuary,” but the strength in the set-list doesn’t cool off – this is another great cut from New Romance: 1984 with a good chance of being one of the people’s favorite tunes from the record. I really feel like George has dialed-in to this entire album, particularly in the vocal department, and the performance he puts in on “Darkroom Sanctuary” definitely speaks to that. He’s always had the ability to create excellent imagery in his lyricism and bring a poetic element to his words – but the way he’s singing these songs on New Romance: 1984 and the strength of his songwriting really sounds like he’s upped the stakes all-around. The bulk of that comes from the lead parts of course, but it’s also coming from the background vocals and avant-garde singing between verses and choruses throughout the record and certainly on this particular song. Melody and the right amount of emotion to make the experience real for us as listeners…that’s what you’re hearing on “Darkroom Sanctuary” – it’s actually quite the thought-provoking and beautiful experience when it comes right down to it. It’s subtle, it’s charming, it’s even decidedly sweet…the entire song is inviting and warm; even though Alien Skin is likely always going to be considered to be on the fringe-side of music, tunes like “Darkroom Sanctuary” are magnificently accessible to all – amazing songwriting at work here and equal caliber execution…Pappas takes his time and uses space to his advantage completely on this cut.
“She Lives In Tunnels” is a solid track…and quite likely, on any other record, it would probably stand out even more – it’s really only by comparison to the rest of the cuts you’ll hear before this one that it comes out a little more…ordinary. I like that Alien Skin switches it up to the spoken-word lead vocals for the verses, and transitions perfectly into the singing you’ll find in the chorus – this is a classic aspect of the Alien Skin catalog of tunes and an important part of this project I’d definitely love to hear continue. Tracks like “She Lives In Tunnels” remind us there’s a lot more to the art in what George creates, and that it could virtually take him anywhere; even if it might be somewhat less accessible than the rest of the set by comparison by a degree or two, it’s tracks like this one that make me proud to support Alien Skin. You never really know which direction this project will turn next – and I don’t always need to be able to sing along with every moment in every song – it’s awesome to be able to appreciate the words he writes in different ways and “She Lives In Tunnels” gives you the opportunity to do just that. Whereas the majority of this record seems to find its strength in the vocals this time around, it’s the exploratory and mysterious vibes that “She Lives In Tunnels” contains in the music that’ll grab ya.
Case in-point, even when the vocals are brought in synthetically, they make a big impact – it’s likely a vocal-sample or digital-voice being keyed into the opening of “Dreams Of A Boy,” and it’s the first hook you’ll notice inside this mellow groove. Much like the title implies, you can feel the dreamy atmosphere surround you on this song as Alien Skin reflects nostalgically on the past. For the most part, George heads back to singing on this tune, but also brings in a spoken-word bit along the journey to help make the sentiments of this song become even clearer. There’s an argument to be made that “Dreams Of A Boy” still ventures into the more experimental & niche-side of Alien Skin’s catalog in some ways, but the beauty in the smoothness you’ll find also contributes to a highly accessible & welcoming sound. It’s one of the more hybrid ideas on New Romance: 1984, and a song that comes out pretty mesmerizing overall – I’d be surprised if people didn’t latch onto the sweetness to be found radiating gently from this song. Being as chill as it is, it might not make the immediate impact that songs in the record’s first half make right away, but I highly suspect that this song will grow on listeners more quickly than it moves. A quaint slow cut – the amount of charm working in Alien Skin’s “Dreams Of A Boy” is completely tangible.
“Stay Away From The Lollipop Clown” is not just a return to a more lively energy on this record, it’s damn good advice! Stay away from all clowns if you ask me…they’re never good news. Diving deeper into a more haunting & eerie vibe, still on the more adventurous & experimental side of Alien Skin’s music – you’ll find that the way this transitions the flow of the album yet again is fully effective. In many ways, “Stay Away From The Lollipop Clown” is even more of an oddity in the lineup than the previous two songs in terms of how far it’ll reach into the beyond – but you’ll be largely entertained by the cunning brilliance displayed in the texture & choices of sounds along the way. I think you’ll also find that the layout of the album as a whole really makes a difference on New Romance: 1984 as well – it’s because of the sly transformation that Alien Skin provides with “She Lives In Tunnels” and “Dreams Of A Boy” beforehand that make songs like “Stay Away From The Lollipop Clown” more readily enjoyable. Plus I can tell ya from experience, this was one of the songs that continually grew on me more & more as I listened – and by the time I ended up writing this review, I can’t even begin to express the amount of time I’ve spent with the main hook of the chorus stuck firmly in my head. Like I always say, that tells ya the artist is always onto something special or unique when that’s the case; even if this particular track borders on the strange & weird at times, there’s no doubt about the power of its potential grip after a couple of spins through the record. Above all things, I maintain, George is doling out solid advice here.
Likewise, “It Came From Outer Space” contains a sound & set of ideas that would make a lot of the comments for “Stay Away From The Lollipop Clown” applicable here too. Overall, I think “It Came From Outer Space” makes for a more interesting track to listen to…the main hooks of this song have spent a nearly equal amount of time in my head as the previous track did, but I also really enjoyed the spoken-word aspect of this track. I haven’t commented much on production throughout this review, but the facts are that it completely shines and plays a significant role – especially on otherworldly ideas and songs like “It Came From Outer Space.” As I mentioned earlier, to love Alien Skin is to appreciate the artistic inclinations and spoken-word narratives so often featured in the material – and that rule certainly applies to this track. Think of how innovators like Thomas Dolby shifted into imaginative and innovative creations that weren’t always considered mainstream, but definitely rewarding to listen to on several levels – that’s where a song like “It Came From Outer Space” shows its strength & musical muscles. It’s darker and even eerier than any of the rest by a significant degree – but the pulsing sound and enticing beat continually keep us engaged as we listen, and the cleverness you’ll find in the mix on the vocals has an undeniable allure as well. Whether it’s your sheer curiosity in finding out where Alien Skin will lead you on “It Came From Outer Space,” or its vastly understated grooves – one way or the other, George has created a song that authentically captures the interest of our ears. It’s as poetic as it is creepy if you ask me – but for myself personally, I thought this was a completely gripping idea and atmosphere – it feels and sounds like audible danger…like drifting right into uncertainty & the unknown.
More comforting and inviting sound invades the final cut “Waiting For Heaven” as Alien Skin morphs this record with one last twist in direction. The insatiable beat you’ll find on this track leaves a solid lasting impression on ya – it’s the kind of subtle mover that hypnotically retains your attention without overkill. With a distinctly retro demeanor to the music, which much of this record employs, “Waiting For Heaven” surges delicately and grooves hard – and all at the same time. Choosing lyricism that reflects internally and externally, this last track has plenty to offer the ears and to the mind as well, with plenty of thought-provoking lines that’ll make you consider the state of things in your own life and the world around you. Alien Skin has gotten so many things completely right in the lineup of songs on this album, and this final cut is no exception to the standards set along the way – the production shines as much as the layers of vocals & plethora of ideas do – and the sheer amount of wildly interesting sounds added into the rhythm & flow is more than noteworthy. Have a close listen to the digital genetic makeup of a song like “Waiting For Heaven,” and you’ll quickly discover that, while everything may seem fairly chill upon the surface, there is so much added into even the most subtle of Alien Skin’s songs that the all-around efforts being made on New Romance: 1984 are pretty much nothing less than award-worthy.
Find out more about Alien Skin from the main website at: http://www.alienskinmusic.com
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