Betweenzone – Full Artificial Intelligence – Album Review
Stoked to have this band back on our pages, and for plenty of good reasons. Early on in the year, sometime in January, we were first introduced to the sounds of Betweenzone through a handful of singles – all of which I was pretty much ecstatic about & more that I knew of that were killer that I hadn’t even discussed in the review. It was clear that Betweenzone was gearing up to make a serious launch in 2018, giving us a mere taste of what was to come – and now we’re here. On June 21st, just a couple days back, the two-piece band officially released their debut record Full Artificial Intelligence at long last. Seriously, I mean that – if you think I’ve been chomping at the bit to get new songs from this project, just imagine the people that have been waiting since they started releasing singles back in ’96! That’s twenty-two years in the making if you need some help with the math. You know what they say though, you know how the old saying goes – you truly DO get a lifetime to make that first record…
…and they also say that you get, like, two weeks to make your second. So let’s get crackin’ boys!
Apologies. I shouldn’t get too greedy…I mean, I JUST got this new record last week some time…and if I AM being truthful, there’s more than enough here on Full Artificial Intelligence to hold me over sufficiently until they’re good & ready for that next release, whenever that may be. But just don’t go blaming me for wanting MORE of this – you will too…believe me, I’m not gonna be alone in feeling that. Because one way or the other, they’ll get to ya. Betweenzone has got something for everybody here.
And let’s face it – these guys have been musically blue-ballin’ for years now, with a full load of songs backed up in the pipe just waiting to explode all over the scene. I can only imagine if you’re Dave or EAST from Betweenzone, that you’ve gotta be feeling pretty damn good about getting this out there after all this time. What’s remarkably impressive…like…seriously shake your head in disbelief impressive…is that these songs…this music…this material…it’s all still ridiculously fresh & ready for right freakin’ now. Keep in mind, they’re not hauling out their old ideas from back in 1996 – the songs you’ll hear on Full Artificial Intelligence represent the stuff they’ve been crushing between 2016 – 2018…BUT – that doesn’t mean that they might not have dragged a few great ideas from the past into the present. Their penchant for fusing sounds of all kinds from electro to progressive-rock incorporates all kinds of ideas into giant structures on a record that ends up being nearly two full hours – like I said, it’s all here.
The songs I’ve reviewed in the past from Betweenzone look like they all made it onto this album…which is…hmmm…let’s just say great news for you, because everything I’ve heard before was completely awesome. Opening Full Artificial Intelligence is a serious slayer that puts the rock-side of Betweenzone on display to get the energy flowing through “Endless Me.” On a record this versatile, they could have chosen a ton of methods to start the record…and there’s no one song that’s going to fully define the sound or scope of what they’re capable of – you get different experiences, different dimensions, different ideas on each tune. Did they make a wise choice with “Endless Me” being the first cut? YES. Without a moment’s hesitation, the answer is a resounding, enthusiastic, wildly supportive YES. The guitars from East absolutely grip & rip throughout this extraordinary blast of pure sonic energy that starts the new Betweenzone record, and singer Dave M. Rile sets the mic on fire through the scorching hooks that blaze through “Endless Me.” Add in the furious beat & pace that drives the song, smart backing vocal layers, production & programming…you’ve got a serious barn-burner here right away on Full Artificial Intelligence that is about as wicked as anything you’d find from Garbage back when they were killin’ it on records like Version 2.0. The energy is intense, they’re committed, bold, confident – “Endless Me” is the kind of first impression you want to make with a record – this makes an impact.
They dial back the explosiveness and begin to morph their sound from there on, starting with the change in direction with “Please Come Down” – which is a slow-burning epic that really hits the mark. Structured to deliver – this second tune is magnificently satisfying to listen to. I love the effects applied to Dave’s vocals here…just enough of the ol’ auto-tuner added on to enhance the sound, not dominate it – like for the most part, you’ll probably not even notice it’s there at all until a slight bending of a tone or two will tip you off. Betweenzone has created a mid-tempo churn that really works here – “Please Come Down” grabbed my attention & truly held it each time it came on; I can acknowledge that it might not have the typical hooks people are accustomed to – but I think as a complete moment, this song nails it. The gentle acoustic beginning leads to a brilliant transition in sound with the synthesizers space-invading the mix before the first minute is done…and from there, “Please Come Down” establishes its presence on Full Artificial Intelligence firmly. Dave goes on to resemble Liam Gallagher at times on this cut through some of his wildest moments as the song builds throughout the chorus, and remarkably smooth like the sound of Feeder in the more gentle moments in the verses of “Please Come Down.” The guitar solo from EAST that fuels the final ninety seconds of this cut is beyond awesome – that’s what you’d call the perfect addition to what was already going incredibly right. While I think that “Please Come Down” will likely not make the immediate impact that “Endless Me” will with people – I think many out there will be surprised by just how quickly they end up coming back to this meaty track.
“Put It Away” is one of the tunes I first examined from this record before it was out when previewing some of the lead-singles that eventually became a part of Full Artificial Intelligence. Here in the full scope of the layout of this album, I think they’ve made a wise choice in adding this cut up front, which helps gradually ease us out of the rock-vibes for a moment or two as the electro elements take over. Between the tight programming, extended tones from the vocals, smart & simple bass-lines, “Put It Away” is a much more chilled-out moment than you’ve heard so far in the setting of the full album, but it’s a welcome sound that’s inviting…and ultimately, there’s a lot of messages in the lyrics that are completely relevant for what’s happening out there in the world right now. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a good tune…it’s not my favorite on the record by a fair stretch, but it’s definitely not something I’d skip over either. But I’d also be lying if I said that eyeing up “Time Has Come” next on the playlist always made it harder to just enjoy “Put It Away” after knowing that one of the most single-worthy tunes on the album was right around the corner.
I didn’t review “Time Has Come” in that initial batch of songs when I first listened to Betweenzone – but believe me, I certainly noticed that it was there. I made a few small comments & observations on it, just enough to hint at the massive potential that exists for this song – and I stand by everything I’ve said, as I always do. What I didn’t say at the time, was that, in all likelihood, this is probably one of my favorite cuts of the year right now. I think it’s got an incredibly artistic & melodic blending of ideas that come out with a beautifully fresh energy and subtle vibe that really makes an impact. The vocal melody is spectacular, the guitars are immaculate, the bass is essential – the smooth sound & steady beat of “Time Has Come” reveals itself quickly, doling out the audible sweetness in every possible way they can. It’s not just a matter of Dave having some of his greatest moments or EAST having some of his own – it’s a matter of the band really succeeding as a unit here, with a song that blissfully makes magic of its melody at every opportunity. It’s poetic, it’s rhythmic – it’s an absolutely extraordinary song & a complete gem.
Even a track like “We Got Everything We Need,” which shifts the sound even further from where Full Artificial Intelligence began, reveals so much about what’s great about Betweenzone. The twisting pop melody they’ve created here incorporates genuine funk into the mix and what’s nearly old-school hip-hop before it settles right into a Hot Chip style chorus. In general, I think a track like “We Got Everything We Need” is probably a bit more of a stretch for the people out there that responded quickly to “Endless Me” at the outset of the album, but I think the sly groove on this tune eventually catches on. I mean, if I’m being fair to “We Got Everything We Need,” it DID just come after one of my favorite cuts of the year…so inarguably, it’s probably got the toughest slot on the record to fill. So in my opinion, they played this one right by adding in what’s a really versatile & diverse sound on this album; it’s got its own appeal & charisma, and the low-key vibe & subtle groove doesn’t force itself on you – there’s a really smart evolution to the sound of “We Got Everything We Need” that feels organic, natural, and gentle. Excellent lyrics and plenty of wordplay involved – considering they’re coming from the other side of the globe over there in Germany, you’ve gotta give’em extra credit for mastering the language so flawlessly.
I feel like in some ways I still feel the same about “Such A Big Mistake” now as I did back then in the first review of Betweenzone…but I’ll also admit that absence makes the heart grow fonder, doesn’t it? Returning to this cut was more than welcome to my ears – I think resisting the charm of a song like “Such A Big Mistake” would be a futile exercise in frustration & nothing more…it’s impossible to not catch the energy of the vibe they create here. I also think that in the context of the full-scope of this album, “Such A Big Mistake” also ends up feeling like it makes more sense in this ever-changing style & shifting sounds of Full Artificial Intelligence as opposed to just a single drifting out there on its own. Far beyond what I might think about it personally, the reality of a song like this is that there is a ton of crossover appeal & potential for this song; in other words, while it might not be my own favorite, there’s a massive chance that it could be yours and could be the number-one choice for many people out there.
For myself personally, I’m much more about the “Please Come Down” & “Dreamscape” side of their sound. “Dreamscape” was one of the first singles I reviewed and helped form my first impression of what this band was capable of overall – and I still think it’s an absolutely extraordinary standout song. There’s no doubt that they dip into more progressive terrain with this tune – but the parts they’ve written, created, and executed with such insightful innovation is truly inspiring. The bass plays a massively significant role, the harmonies are spot-on, the accenting guitar elements are incredibly cool to listen to. When Betweenzone hits the 2:45 mark, they transition into one of the most powerful verses on “Dreamscape” and arguably, on the entire album – they sound like masters of their own universe here, confident and bold, creating complexity with accessibility still in mind. “Dreamscape” will challenge the mind & the ears with its ambitions – but the rewards of listening to this cut are priceless.
I’m no expert in other languages…I barely passed my French & Italian classes in high-school – but if I’m not mistake, “Tauchen” would be sung in their native German tongue. While I might not understand the words themselves, the vibe of course, completely translates brilliantly – “Tauchen” is loaded with genuine emotion and a brilliantly chilled-out vibe. Of all the songs that were new for me this time around in listening to Betweenzone, this was definitely one of my favorites. I think it not only represents them well as a multi-dimensional band, but the switches they’ve made in their sound & approach to this tune really served the album incredibly well. Do I want another full-on song made with the incredible electro sound that starts & ends this song? OF COURSE I DO – who wouldn’t? But I’ll take what I can get…they make a clever transition to a more subtle sound to bring the life out in this gentle & tender electro vibe, smartly adding piano into the mix & making the most of the melody at every turn. Dave sounds just as fantastic singing in German – I think “Tauchen” is a remarkably strong song. The music, production, & programming is top-notch…LISTEN to the atmospheric elements that swirl together to combine the stunning sounds that float throughout “Tauchen” – what’s happening in the background of this tune is every bit as essential as what drives it up front – the balance is impeccable.
COME ON PEOPLE – that set of guitar hooks that occurs around the two-minute mark of the nine minute-plus song “Bertolt Brecht” is AMAZING. I had all kinds of comments on this cut back in January when I first heard it – and again, I stand by what I’ve said – this is a complete EPIC and almost its own mini-album inside of this larger idea. The musicianship on this one tune alone is enough to take your breath away – and you’ve gotta recognize that a song like “Bertolt Brecht” isn’t attempting to become a radio tune – this is a complete dive right into the art of making music and Betweenzone getting right into the vibe. The results are a loose groove with tightly executed ideas and bold imagination – there’s jazz, funk, electro combined in the music…and chilling vocal samples being used throughout the song as well; the contrast completely stands out as the bright sounds surround the inquisitively dark voices that appear throughout the song. It’s completely wild stuff all-around and the beat of “Bertolt Brecht” never quits on ya…the energy that surges through this one song is enough to power a house for a year or two.
From there, Full Artificial Intelligence continues on to a final set of four tunes that I hadn’t heard yet. Beginning with the trance-like sounds of the heavy-synth laden beat on “Saturnus,” Betweenzone dives headfirst into the electro vibe and continues to turn up the innovation & intensity on their new album. Like – LISTEN to…I don’t even KNOW what it is…but around the 2:30 mark of “Saturnus” – I think we’ve got like, a combination of guitar & then either some really brilliant instrumentation, or amazing programming, or perhaps both…I can’t even begin to explain just how cool this song gets from that point forward. While “Saturnus” is definitely noticeable right from the drop, the evolution & ride this song takes you on just continually seems to get cooler as it flows. Set at a riotous pace, the electro side of Betweenzone shines brightly here…”Saturnus” never lets up, never quits – it’s about as noticeable of a song as can possibly be achieved without slipping you away into a state of complete hypnotic trance. Instead, you end up staying with every second of the stunning sound that runs rampantly through the electricity in the air as Betweenzone demonstrates that they do electro every bit as well as they do rock.
They also have an innate ability to make music FUN when they really want to as well. Have a listen to how they loosen up the vibe and just get wild with the music & vocals on “You Give Your Life Away” – what a rad tune! Don’t get me wrong…my moodier side is always going to be a champion of the more brooding sounds of Betweenzone – but I definitely can’t deny the amazing hook & pull of a song like “You Give Your Life Away.” This is like RJD2, Aphex Twin, Hot Chip, and then like…I don’t even know what else…some kind of slight alternative edge…but you get the idea – “You Give Your Life Away” is full of electro goodness while still packing in insane amounts of genuinely spectacular sounds. Again, production, editing, mixing, mastering – all that stuff plays a serious role here, let’s not kid ourselves – they’re just as smart behind the studio boards as they are in front of them…but dear readers, dear friends – understand that you’ve gotta have a killer idea to begin with to make the effort all worthwhile. THIS is how you do it…”You Give Your Life Away” is a perfect example of what commitment sounds like; after everything you’ve heard & experienced already, it’s entirely impressive to hear yet another style & approach to their music come through so successfully & so confidently in the album’s late stages. Bright, colorful, playful, inviting, rhythmic, intense…it’s a virtual smorgasbord of amazing sounds all the way through – and some of these vocal ideas from Dave are absolutely off-the-charts cool to listen to.
In a world where Robin Thicke can be sued successfully for infringement for his single “Blurred Lines” – “Recep” is where Betweenzone might want to contact the ol’ legal department and keep their lawyers on speed dial. Rhythmically, the main line is going to remind many people out there of Weezer’s hit song “Hash Pipe” from the Green album, even if it’s in a more synthesized form here. But this is where the debate comes in for sure…it’s like a four note pattern or so…and of course, it’s used entirely differently here on “Recep” by Betweenzone…so I’m not saying it’s not a totally different idea so much as I’m just saying, be careful boys – the world is getting weird out there when it comes to this issue and the less risk the better. All that being said – there’s a reason this hook stands out, and that’s because it seriously works. Cleverly switching between languages, the appeal of “Recep” is widespread – the song is as artistic as it is straightforward as well on many levels…it comes into the ears easily, because it’s got compelling music and really smart ideas happening in the vocals. Good tune but I definitely couldn’t shake the “Hash Pipe” vibe it had supplying the backbone of the rhythm…it was different enough to be a unique creation of its own overall, but the similarities always brought the comparison to my mind.
Love the tone of the bass & piano combination that opens the final track “Move On” – and once those guitars kick-in, it just gets better & better. Such character in this band! At all times I tell ya – but you can certainly hear it coming through the latter-half of this album in all kinds of incredible ways. “Move On” makes some really smart final moves…like I don’t know if that’s a modulated voice or a live electric wire that’s adding the vibrant & electric sound in the early stages of this song; it doesn’t even matter at the end of the day, I just dig listening to what it sounds like! The vocals on this last cut are used sparingly…I’m pretty sure it IS a modulated voice in the electric live-wire sound they’re working with, but you get what I mean…the discernible vocals occur much less frequently, appearing in the amped-up epicness that springs into the chorus. “Move On” is a bold final cut and another display of solid creativity from what seems to be an endless supply of it in Betweenzone. They move through this final song with every bit of the commitment, confidence, and noteworthy skill they’ve applied to each song along the way, bringing Full Artificial Intelligence to a thoroughly satisfying and logical conclusion that brings the drama up just that one extra notch or two in effort to create that real finale-style impact.
For all of two pieces – you’ve gotta hand it to Betweenzone – this is an absolute achievement in diverse ideas and sound through an entire set of songs that have wild imagination & clear, sincere passion on display at every moment, in every style they take on. Great job guys – it was worth the wait!
Find out more about Betweenzone at their official homepage at: http://www.betweenzone.org/