Antoni Schonken – Years Between Us – Album Review
This dude right here, is a remarkable talent.
Mind you, after all I’ve read about everything he’s already accomplished so far in his career, he really doesn’t need some blogger like me tellin’ him that – Antoni Schonken is a stunning composer with a whole list of achievements that have taken his instrumental compositions straight into the mainstream via reputable sources like The Smithsonian Channel, Apple TV – even Canada’s own BBC Earth series as well, which is even more cool consider the fact that he’s originally from, and based out of South Africa. Trust me – I could go on…from scholarships along the way as he refined his talent, to becoming a guest lecturer featured around the world, to his activism through music that has seen him take on important issues like hate crimes in the past, and climate change here in the present on Years Between Us – truly, Antoni’s more than your mere average musician in just about every conceivable way – and it’s inspiring.
According to Schonken direct – “The future of our planet is more uncertain than ever. Today, already, we are witnessing a loss of biodiversity across the globe on an unprecedented scale. What hope do we have for the future if we’re not brave enough to look after the present?” I love the fierceness in that statement and how bold it is – “if we’re not brave enough” is such a powerful line with so very much truth in it…because that’s what’s gonna be required if we’re ever gonna change anything – courage. The fact that we haven’t shown nearly enough collectively around the world to-date, is exactly what creates the first line of the quote – and I’m with him on that. I don’t know that we’ve got people in charge with enough gusto to make the differences we’re really gonna need before it’s too late – and my realistic perspective tells me that people en masse only deal with what directly affects them personally. The people that live in affected areas and have a modicum of social awareness beyond their own shopping mall, probably get it; the people that haven’t been exposed to the harsh realities of climate change staring them straight in the face yet because they’ve had their heads in the sand trying to deny or hide from it…they’re kinda holding up the process of progress and the changes we need to make – and the grim reality is, we’re running out of time to make those changes if we haven’t in fact, already run out.
I salute the man on his mission to create awareness through his music…and of course I love what I hear.
There are plenty of reasons as to what’s made Antoni an award-winning talent throughout his career. From the hard-work & dedication to the art & craft he’s put into his music over the years, you can hear how it has all paid off instantly as the intensity of an atmospheric instrumental like “Planet On The Brink” begins to reveal itself as Years Between Us starts. A brilliant display of stunning musicianship, professional poise & precision, and remarkable passion – “Planet On The Brink” expertly contrasts the light with the dark, communicating the urgency of the situation we find ourselves in, while also reminding us of the innocent beauty surrounding us daily that is entirely threatened by our inaction. Of course…keep in mind, these are just the places it takes me in my own brain – you might have a different assessment; it’s instrumental music and always open to interpretation in that regard, but if we’re to glean anything from the title, it’s the implied direction of the theme driving what we hear in many cases. “Planet On The Brink” fast becomes powerfully evocative, compelling, engaging…and were it not for the fact that it’s basically based in non-fiction – aka the grim reality facing our planet at-large – you might just be able to sit back & enjoy the beauty of the dynamics in this composition, but the real truth of the matter is that songs like this & records like Years Between Us are designed to be as sensory as they are thought-provoking. You want to have this music lead you somewhere in your mind – you want it to make you feel something you wanna talk about – that’s essentially the entirely intended purpose of WHY it exists. My personal advice is to embrace it all, let it genuinely sink in, and consider the weight. You’ll feel that authentic connection to a song like “Planet On The Brink” because the music speaks to you through a plethora of emotions that move the heart just as much as they move the mind – I love it. From the sparkle of innocence, hope, and beauty that the piano brings to it, to the magnificent drums providing thunderous highlights along the way – the real sense of urgency comes across as the most dominant thread in the mood…it’s like you’re being shown the wonders of the world and presented with the knowledge of their potential destruction, yet have the choice to save it…all very epic in that sense, and generally-speaking, equally true. It’s a song that makes us take a look at the role we can all play.
There is a point of course, where a gift for accuracy in expressing emotion through music can potentially catch up with you in strange ways. For example – you’re not gonna jump up & down with excitement about “A Bleak Future” – because how on earth could you? You might marvel at it…you might be lulled in by the exquisite beauty of the musicianship…how it transitions just ever so slightly past that first minute to offer a lifeline of hope…but “A Bleak Future” is also exactly what its title would imply to you – it’s bleak, yes indeed. Considering that’s intended, you know what you’re in-store for, of course, as a listener…and I’m certainly not suggesting that generating excitement is the sole purpose of making music – far from it – I’m just objectively explaining the reality of being THIS accurate when it comes to the art of melancholy melodies, you feel me? It’d be weird to come out of listening to a song called “A Bleak Future” ranting and raving about how it’s the greatest thing you’ve ever heard in your life – because even if that WAS the case, it’d be mighty strange to feel that way considering the theme. All that being said, on a musicianship, compositional, and cinematic-sound level, I’m pretty much nothing BUT excited by “A Bleak Future” personally. I know, I know…I just wrote all that other stuff out, and I’m gonna take the opposite side of my own argument – I get it. All I’ve been trying to say, is that a song like “A Bleak Future” and its pinpoint accuracy is going to appeal to people most when they’re in a mood that can handle this, you follow me? On the right rainy day, staring out the window, lost in your own thoughts, a song like “A Bleak Future” could lead you to profound thoughts and tap right into the heart of some of your most powerful emotions – all I’m saying is that, obviously, that’s not gonna be every day for everyone, and that’s fine. Trust me when I say, when you ARE in the mood for a desolate vibe like you’ll find in the forlorn melody of “A Bleak Future,” you’ll know this is the exact song you wanna reach for. It hits the mark completely when it comes to musicianship – Antoni continually checks all the boxes for a strong win in that regard – and thematically, you’ve gotta give this guy serious credit for how much despair, yearning, and pleading he’s worked into an instrumental song…the amount of expression that comes through his music is all-out remarkable, fascinating, enchanting, and ultimately, entirely moving. I’m a melancholy dude at the core of who I am I suppose, or at the very least, what I like to listen to – so while I get that many people out there might feel like “A Bleak Future” isn’t going to keep their Friday night party goin’ – there are more than enough of us out there that actually enjoy being crushed by the powerful weight of a song like this to compensate for all that. Every time this song crosses that threshold of the first minute, I swear…right there you’ll hear the real magic of Antoni Schonken revealed crystal-clearly as the melody shifts & transitions just enough to let a crack of light in from the darkness.
Many of the songs on Years Between Us are quite short, but every bit as essential to this lineup of nine. Through the icy background and the warm glow of strings on top, “Disappearing One By One” proves that Antoni is more than capable of moving you even within the shortest of timeframes. It might only be a minute-plus in length, but he knows how to get the maximum value out of every texture & tone he adds into his compositions…where to heighten the emotion…where to let the hope shine through, even in the midst of a record that explores such heavy themes. I suppose what I’m tellin’ ya is, he’s a true maestro & master of contrast – when you listen to how far you really travel in the emotional thread of the melodic design flowing through “Disappearing One By One,” you have to truly marvel at how much he gets in there. It feels mysterious at points, beautiful & serene at others, cautious & curious, and heartbreaking & hopeful…and you get ALL of that & more on the inside of 1:21? I don’t know about you y’all…but I’m a frugal man when it comes to the time I spend listening to music…you kinda have to be as a reviewer I suppose – all I’m sayin’ is that if we’re talking about VALUE – Antoni is in a class of his own. He’s able to work in so much into such a short timeframe…STILL have it all feel like it has every ounce of the space that it should…nothing is rushed, it’s all revealed with such an incredibly natural flow…he’s in no hurry, even in a song that’s this tiny of a moment. To me, this all says a lot about the high degree of confidence he has as an artist & the confidence he has in his material – this man knows what he’s doing. With a more airy & atmospheric approach to “Taking Flight” to follow, you’ll hear his gift for expression in action once again in under ninety-seconds of time, guiding you through a more uplifting, hopeful, serene, peaceful, and genuinely sweet melody that’s stunningly spread out, hypnotic, and mesmerizing. For you regular readers here at our pages, you might find yourself comparing what you hear in Antoni’s music to the soundscapes you’d find in Forest Robots, or the atmospherically inclined melodies of Glenn Murawski. ”Taking Flight” is another short and spellbinding tune on this album that’s got a lot of heart.
This dude just gets it, and that’s really the nuts & bolts of it all. You listen to a song like “Rainy Afternoon” at the center of Years Between Us, and you truly can’t help but be enchanted by the exquisite melody & sound you’ll find. Antoni’s got such a remarkable gift for composition, and songs like this one speak volumes on behalf of his patience & ability to reveal a real story through his craft – these might be all-instrumental tunes, yes – but trust me, you’ll find each track in this lineup speaks to you in its own unique way. It’s the results of authentic focus, dedication to the art, and true professionalism at work y’all – that’s what you’re hearing in the music of Antoni Schonken, and “Rainy Afternoon” is more exemplary proof of that being true. I’ll say this much for sure – you listen to a track like “Rainy Afternoon” and you definitely get why Antoni’s music would be perfectly suited for something like the BBC Earth series…it’s all got such a grounded & down to earth feel to it…sensory emotional tapestries in sound that feel like we’ve somehow had these songs inside us all along…and they call out to our souls in a very earnest, endearing, and enticing way. Songs like “Rainy Afternoon” are immaculately designed – the piano melody & strings combination…the hint of ambience & nature in the mix…it’s a highly moving composition that is as delicately played as it is bold – the technique & professionalism in Antoni’s music all speaks for itself when you hear everything combined together over the course of a song like this one. I loved this one from the moment it started though…you get this like…music-box like opening…and with the stellar production you’ll find on a song like “Rainy Afternoon” you get transported right out of your own world and into Antoni’s luscious soundscape, wherever that might end up taking you in your mind.
You know what I found fascinating? Like REALLY fascinating…a super cool tie-in that…I mean…I gotta assume it’s an intentional part of the design, because Antoni really does seem to have thought about the music he makes from every possible angle. Listen to the beginning melody of “Scarcely Enough Food” – or jump to the twenty second mark more specifically, right around there…listen to how the piano eventually backs into a pattern of five notes for a moment before the rest plays out…pensively, as if to consider these tones, each and every one of’em. Now here’s the great reveal…here’s where I blow your mind…I’m just saying…if you listen to those notes being played, you might just realize that there are five syllables in the title as well…and when you listen, you might just link those two things up in your brain as “Scarcely Enough Food” begins. Maybe that’s intended, maybe it’s not…I really don’t know – maybe it’s only happening in MY head…I cannot say – but it made for a really like…spine-tingling start to listening to “Scarcely Enough Food” that seemed to once again, confirm how Schonken can speak through his music without even using a single word. You get your clues from the titles and from the sound in the mood & melody…but other than that, it’s really all about how these songs connect to you personally, and what you identify with when it comes to the music you hear. For those of you out there that truly appreciate flawless compositions that combine gripping sincerity with tremendous skill – I’d can’t imagine any reason on earth as to why you wouldn’t wanna head right over to Antoni’s pages and start following him into this next chapter of his career as he surges forward into the next years to follow. Once again just under the ninety-second threshold…he adds sparkle & shine into the mix through his piano around the forty-five second mark, and enchants you with moving strings in the middle before exiting on the strengths of that piano melody once again at its most bare-bones at the very end, almost as if the music echoes the scarcity of food by mimicking that through the emptiness of its final moments.
“Loss Of Habitat” seems to takes its melodic cues from “Scarcely Enough Food” right beforehand, but draws them out into the open with a bit more of a despairing & serious vibe to it. The added dramatic tension you hear added in towards the end communicates the weight of this scenario even more, leaving you on what’s essentially the lowest of lows by the very end of “Loss Of Habitat.” Again, much like “A Bleak Future” earlier on, I get it…it’s not a party tune by quite a stretch – but none of this is intended to be to begin with – this is an experience that should resonate within your mind, body, and soul…because it’s very much based on real emotions that we have inside us, expressed in audible form out loud for you to hear reflected directly back at you. You really feel moments like around the thirty-five second spot on “Loss Of Habitat,” where the music opens up in a really expansive way, yet also seems to empty & barren at the same time, expertly adding the space into the mix to enhance the theme even more. That major transition you hear at the end of this song, would quite likely imply just how much witnessing something like a “Loss Of Habitat” should resonate and make a major impact on us…and hopefully, one day, it will…beyond the music, that is. I’m talking about real life y’all. This whole record has you reflecting on just how important and crucial it is to wake up & do something before it’s too late and there’s nothing we can do…Antoni should be proud of how thought-provoking his music is.
“Loss Of Species” is definitely one of the most tangibly desolate songs on this record, and a master-class on how to move listeners with music that’s just barely over a minute in length. Again, you listen to the songs on Years Between Us, and it completely makes sense as to why Antoni’s been so sought out for his music to add to visual scenes onscreen in a variety of ways…you could look at it on an even more macro level than that if you wanted to – Schonken makes music that actually enhances your life experience – that’s what the reality truly IS. That doesn’t always mean it’s gonna be the happiest experience you’re ever gonna have – but it will be real, it will be profound, and it will move you – “Loss Of Species” is as perfect of an example of that as really any other song on this record would be. The astounding level of consistency that runs through the compositional quality and production of this album is award-worthy, straight-up. For what it’s worth, I think he gets a ton of mileage out of this melancholy melody for the length that it has, and creates a sensationally compelling highlight that hits us right in the heartstrings when the piano shows up. It’s a desolate tune when it comes to theme, mood, and atmosphere, no doubt about that, but played with undeniable passion, purpose, and professionalism to the nth degree.
Ending really strongly with his title-track, the dam seems to break open in the finale of “Years Between Us” and you reach the heart of Antoni Schonken’s new record with a noticeable shift in accessibility that seems to draw out even more of an engaging energy and spirited allure to the adventurism in his music. Ultimately, you don’t go into a record like this thinking about what song is going to be the single & whatnot like you would with a typical Pop or Rock album, but in terms of drawing the people out there to listen, “Years Between Us” would likely make for the best candidate. Every time you hit those drums, and you hear the way the piano sparks to life, the cellos along with it, the atmospheric synth sound bending time & space around you as you listen, building right to its peak before it breaks with about twenty seconds left on the clock to deconstruct itself…I mean…it’s just like I’ve written here in this sentence – breathtaking, truly. The focus, is genuinely incredible…to me, that bendable synth sound on “Years Between Us” might have even been the most essential ingredient – I love the drama that eventually comes into the mix with the most intense moments of this song for sure, but that downshifting melodic synth vibe really seemed to add the balance of weight to this song that the theme was calling out for in a really clever way. As you head into the 2:30 mark, he expertly combines both main elements of this song as one to create an authentically powerful finale that is guaranteed to make for a memorable highlight on the instrumental charts & playlists this year, and certainly leaves us all with a song that’s just as likely to have you pressing repeat to take another ride through this evocative & expressive new record by Antoni Schonken. No stone has been left unturned in his mission to create music that can genuinely move your heart just as much as your mind – and he’s achieved it in every way; Years Between Us is a seriously deep dive into the art & craft of modern day instrumentalism, complete with a classic & graceful approach that draws on the roots of what makes the genre mesmerizing with professional precision, purpose, passion, and stunning material that is every bit as bold as it is beautiful.
Find out more about Antoni Schonken at his official website: http://www.antonischonken.com
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