Dr. Byow – Transmissions From The Shadow Realm – EP Review
I tell ya…tough to keep a band so tight together these days that one of the members doesn’t eventually go off and start a solo career – even fictional ones apparently! It seems as if one of Those Shadow People – the fantastic comic/music project we’ve written about at least a few times here at the pages in review – has escaped & taken off on his own, to broadcast Transmissions From The Shadow Realm solo. From what I can see, this new record from character Dr. Byow also comes with its own comic…perhaps the official origin story of how the doctor gets his ‘degree,’ you might say. There might also be clues right here in this instrumental set of eight tunes on the EP…which might be hard to pick up on just from the music alone, but we’ve also got titles to work with of course. Each track is listed as a formula of some kind. Whether they’re formulas he’s working on, or ones being ingested, or both, might be up for debate…but, I mean, you gotta get your superpowers from somewhere right? I’d drink’em.
Beginning with what sounds like dawn on a distant planet or a slow-motion chariot-race about to start, “Formula SS/1” kicks out a quaint jam with killer guitar tones bending and shifting in the digital wind. Ain’t nothing to complain about here…if you like an instrumental jam that’s part videogame, part adventure, and fully unique – what’s not to dig? “Formula SS/1” has a sweet beat, bright atmospheric elements, clever guitar work, and a stunning background full of spectacular sounds all combined in an odd but universal harmony. Don’t even get me started on the wicked low-end synth melody that gets involved…not only is it super badass and rad to listen to, it’s practically the backbone of this entire tune and probably the last thing you’ll notice at first with all the other flashy elements throughout the mix. And then once you do hear it, your ears won’t wanna leave it…it’s an essential part of what keeps this bizarre little ditty movin’ & groovin’ – and as strange as some of that movement may indeed be, “Formula SS/1” also displays a noteworthy amount of accessibility & inviting sound that’s bound to appeal to many out there. If you dig textures, if you dig tones, and especially if you dig the relationship between those two elements and how they can make the difference in a song – you’ll love this first cut.
“Formula 8S/72” was even more enticing in my opinion. Love the way the sound of this song spreads out, great ideas & really well recorded too. Very much in the vein of a Four Tet or Boards Of Canada style tune with the low-key-but-jazzy beat coming through to assist the highly atmospheric & dreamy sounds on the surface. That certainly works for me. Perhaps even closer to The Album Leaf in the sense that you get a really defined low-end synth line adding massive definition to the cut while the brightness on top works its continual melodic magic. In any event, no matter the comparison you end up making yourselves, you’ll likely reach the same conclusion I did, which is that the good Dr.’s keeping some solid company. The overall balance in this tune is freakin’ fantastic…I love everything that’s happening right up close just as much as I’m loving all the factors & elements that add up in the background – you really get a high level of satisfaction in listening to the compositions on this EP and “Formula 8S/72” is a great example of proof that’s true. It’s seriously interesting music – and it’s captivating because of that fact.
Dipping into a more mysterious sound on “Formula 80/SB” – I had to double check the label on this one. One small slip from the intended “Formula 80/SB” to something like “Formula 8O/SB” and who knows what would happen – titles matter just as much as warning labels do dear readers, dear friends. I’m not even 100% sure I can explain it entirely…but there’s like…an extra-layer of ‘laboratory-like’ feeling that hangs in the air of this tune as it plays…almost post-formula if you will, like we’re already engaged in the throes of the experiment itself at this point in the EP. And perhaps we are. Maybe this is some kind of top-secret audio-hallucinogen that the Dr.’s been working on…once you’ve listened, you’ll never really know now will you? I could have already gone a long, long way down the rabbit-hole with him and you might not even be able to trust a single thing I’m saying here…maybe I’m trippin’ out on all these formulas that Byow is concocting for our speakers. “Formula 80/SB” also has a bit of that other-wordly sound in the atmosphere as well…which works well for the comic-themes that run alongside the music of course…the storylines don’t often tend to exist here on Earth with us, and given that these are Transmissions From The Shadow Realm…it only makes sense that these should sound spaced right out! Don’t mistake spaced-out for lack of focus – you might hear sounds that are out of this world, but when it comes to execution on these imaginative ideas, there’s focus of all kinds and a passionate tightness to the music you’ll hear. “Formula 80/SB” gets seriously inventive at times, playing with the tempo as the song plays on mid-track even, which is a totally bold move that completely paid off & gives this cut a killer ending through a smart final switch.
Each of these formulas plays like its own mini odyssey into the unknown…you never really know what’ll come next on Transmissions From The Shadow Realm…I certainly dig that personally, I’m sure you will too. “Formula M3/27” would be the longest journey on the EP at just under five minutes, shuffling along with a beat & bass groove that’s definitely got a wild funk element goin’ on & locked right into it. With digital sounds, keyboards, & synths adding to the mix along the way, you can hear the effect the surrounding elements have not just in strengthening the music, but also inspiring that rhythm section as “Formula M3/27” plays on. And how could it not? The stomping bass rhythm, crisp snare snaps, and wild cymbals crashing just makes you wanna go out and conquer another planetary system doesn’t it? Or is that just me? Throw this on in your space-machine for a smooth cruise the galaxy and I promise ya that you won’t be disappointed. “Formula M3/27” is awesome for the fact that it’s played to perfection, the sound is killer all-around, and through its own organic groove, it becomes a serious amount of FUN as well. It’d be super tough to resist the bass rhythm that glides through this cut…impossible one might say.
I really think people will get a lot out of this record. Dr. Byow puts on an incredible display of smart musicianship and clever choices throughout “Formula TP/62” – the bass on this song is 100% awesomeness through & through. Tone is fantastic to begin with – but listen to how it ultimately takes the lead on a very large portion of this song with a complex but oh-so-smooth sound. Definitely one of my favorite cuts on this EP, “Formula TP/62” brilliantly switches between two main gears, one where the bass is leading the way with its intricate melody, the second part being more guitar/drums-driven for a moment mid-song before heading back to the way things began to end the song. Due to the highly interesting way that Dr. Byow has got this track structured & assembled, along with how well played it is, honestly I felt like “Formula TP/62” flew right by every single time. And don’t get me wrong, there’s clearly always plenty going on in the music to be entertained by and “Formula TP/62” is certainly no exception to that rule or standard set by the doctor – but I’d by lyin’ to ya if I didn’t say the bass completely steals the show on this particular tune. Facts are facts homies…that’s killer stuff happenin’ and there’s no denying it, not to my ears, not to yours – it’s a completely fantastic piece of writing and the solid melodic foundation of which the entire song is likely formed around afterwards. No issues with it leading the way, that’s for certain – “Formula TP/62” was ambitious in that respect, and it all paid off.
I think the layout & flow have a real role in how this EP plays as well, which I also really like. By the time you get to “AR/P7” you’re already more than ready for whatever wildness might come at you next, even if you have no idea what it’ll actually sound like. Put it to you this way…in a couple aspects, “AR/P7” is probably a bit more of a wandering idea than some of the other tunes by comparison…but here’s what I want you to consider: even if that’s the case, isn’t it still cooler than at least 75% of what you probably listen to regularly? You know it’s true. Dr. Byow had me half-convinced for a moment at the very beginning that Annie Lennox or David Gahan were about to pop out from behind my speakers and give this 80’s inspired synth-sound the vocals this song never knew it wanted. You’ll hear that for sure, you’ll hear perhaps a bit of a disco-vibe or light-funk in the mix as well…quite an array of upbeat vibes in this cut that will appeal to many ears out there for sure. Dare I say danceable even! I know there’s a 99% chance most people won’t hear many of the things that’ll draw me in to listen…or perhaps find these elements to be the number-one reason to like something, because I’m strange…but so is Dr. Byow when it comes right down to it, so I have no problem saying that whatever it is that he’s added to the mix around the 2:30 mark that runs through the background of this song nearly right to the end, is genius.
That’s the way things really go throughout this record though, like I’ve been saying all along, the balance is fantastic. You’ll probably hear the crispness of the drums, the rubbery bass lines, or the brighter keyboard notes being played along the surface of “Formula G7/28” at first…but again, have a real listen to the incredible melody lines that are added in behind in the background and recognize what a major role they play. I don’t know if those are synth-strings are what, but combined with everything else you hear along the surface…I mean…you gotta admire a composition that’s structured as smartly as this. Killer parts throughout this entire song coming from each element added into the symphonic swirl of sound, bass is extraordinary once again – clearly a Dr. Byow speciality – but all-around, there are no faults to be had in a song as rad as this one is, only praise to be doled out & accolades to be received. I think there’s more than enough here for the everyday music-listener to completely latch onto, but I also think that for the real music-heads out there that dig everything from composition to production & everything in between, they’ll get the most out of a track like “Formula G7/28.” Like you could put this cut on one of the earlier records from DJ Shadow and you’d never feel like it was out of place at all – “Formula G7/28” has a ton of enticing sound, upbeat atmosphere, and comes out like real audio art.
There’s probably a slight argument to be made that you could replace the final track “Formula HNG/VR” with a Bono-less “Formula U2” in certain years of that band’s history, and it’d come out sounding like Dr. Byow does at the beginning & main hooks of this last tune. In CLASSIC Dr. fashion, he’ll morph and change this cut as it plays on with clever breakdowns, smart background layers, & electro sounds poking through of course – he knows how to keep it interesting for you & your speakers, no worries folks! What can I say? It’s certainly no less fun than any of the rest of this EP has been to listen to, I think there’s a great spirit & energy that runs through this last tune on Transmissions From The Shadow Realm. Brighter in its attitude overall maybe, by comparison to the rest…like maybe just maybe the sun is shining over the Shadow Realm for just a moment for all its zany characters to enjoy. I might even be a bit more partial to the breakdown of this particular cut, “Formula HNG/VR” has an inspired highlight before the middle of this tune, heading into some truly experimental but highly unique terrain. As far as the U2-ness of it all goes…I mean…it’s a lot more subtle here than the grandiose standard set by the infamous band, which is kind of neat in itself, taking a mammoth sound and almost shrinking it into a tight fit & style that suits Dr. Byow in a way.
Transmissions From The Shadow Realm has been a highly colorful and creative audio experience from beginning to end with plenty for your ears to appreciate as much as mine did. It’s inventive, innovative, and endlessly amusing in all the right ways and there are so many curious & clever sounds to keep you interested…definitely worth several spins, the whole EP is built on engaging instrumental good times.
Find out more about Dr. Byow at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dr.byow
Join the thousands of bands & artists reviewed at sleepingbagstudios by clicking here!