Dr Optimiser – Borders – Album Review
Any time I find Lemon Jelly listed in the tags for an album, I can promise ya, I’m more than interested. I pretty much wish all music was Lemon Jelly, all of the time. In their absence however…I’m more than happy to welcome back Dr Optimiser to our pages, who just dropped his 3rd official album on March 1st.
While I don’t have a ton of experience with Dr Optimiser’s music, what little I have from posting up his video for “100 Steps To The Shoreline” back in June of last year, definitely points towards this dude being the kind of artist I love throwing on late at night. Long past that time where you feel like the energy has all but left your day completely…like heck, I’d probably just be in bed sleeping if it wasn’t for Dr Optimiser. It’s records like his new one Borders that essentially make it impossible to sleep.
What a superhero! My brain needed this album this week…I’m extremely thankful for Dr Optimiser.
I’ll admit…after just that one single from Dr Optimiser a summer ago, I was fairly convinced that anything this guy would come up with would more than likely be all-killer no-filler…and that’s exactly what he’ll dole out for ya on Borders. “The Theorist” was an INCREDIBLE start to this record – it’s like the entire mystery section came to life on this first cut, weaving together a subtle mix of mayhem & menace into what sounds like an audible warning of sorts. That first blaring of the low-end synth around the thirty-five second mark is UNREAL and makes an enormous impact on the sound, size, & scope of this looming audio-shadow until it feels large & threatening enough to block out the sun altogether & leave you in darkness. “The Theorist” is exactly the kind of engaging gear you’re always looking for in a record…an album that doesn’t give the whole secret in the sauce away in the first song, but gives you a portion so perfect that you’ll definitely be coming back for more & find out what else lies within the walls of Borders. This is the gateway drug into a noteworthy highlight of 2019 so far.
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the music began to take hold…
I’m paraphrasing of course…but that’s the kind of sonic trip we’re on here…so be ready for it.
If I was the good ol’ Dr, I’d be taking a long hard look at the single-worthy potential that exists on the second cut “Spikes” – this is without a doubt, one serious rad beat that is guaranteed to get ya movin.’ Making impressive use of repetition & hypnotic sound, broken up by the occasional breakdown for a lil’ variation…”Spikes” works its magic through the hooks like you straight-up won’t believe unless you hear it for yourself. I can TRY to put this into words…but truly, this is the kind of jam you can feel…and once you DO experience it, you’ll really never want it to end. Such a rubbery & flexible groove…and the way it kicks in past that thirty-second mark is going to have people reaching straight for their volume knobs to turn this mother right up to the rafters, believe that. “Spikes” CRUSHES with wild, colorful rhythm and PHAT sounds that thicken the mix to the point where you couldn’t possibly want anything else. And then like…you know…form your own explanations as to how to justify how you attached a set of speakers to your face to whomever needs to hear’em…I’ve got my own and I ain’t sharing. But I’m sure you get the point – there’s so much killer sound coming at you from the beginning to the end of this second cut that you’ll want to get as close up to it as humanly possible, if only just to absorb another sweet sweet decibel or two that you might not have gotten into you if you were sitting across the room.
While “The Theorist” has its shroud of mystery and “Spikes” has its enticing rhythms too, they’re probably both a bit more on the ‘serious’ side of the Dr Optimiser sound than the more playful Dance vibes you’ll find on “Scratch My Mango.” I mean c’mon people, lighten-up a little bit will ya? The sound of the record did – so did the title! When was the last time you encountered a mango with an itch it couldn’t scratch on its own? Ever remember a mango asking you before? No. No you don’t. Because mangoes always handle their business, that’s why – and they do it privately. So clearly, Dr Optimiser is having a bit more fun and keeping it lighthearted on “Scratch My Mango” – and it’s something you can genuinely hear in the music, not just assume from the creativity in the smile-inducing title of this tune. I can dig it though…”Scratch My Mango” might be…hmm…closer to what a lot of people’s traditional assumptions or perception of what House/Dance/Electro is all about, and there could be additional value in that as well in terms of getting the masses listening – the potential to reach a wide audience with this cut is definitely there. Overall…”Scratch My Mango” is designed for good times and that’s what it achieves…a subtle leave-it-all-out-there-on-the-dancefloor-type tune that’ll hit the chill spot.
I’ve had lots of favorite moments in listening to this album…Borders doesn’t have any major weak points or dead-spots to speak of, it’s just great music, continuously flowing at all times, like it’s what Dr Optimiser was born to do. Listen to the amount of comforting freedom swirling through the vibe on “County Lines” and the sweetness invade this record even more right at this song…it’s a true beauty. And whereas you can often expect listeners to get up for a glass of water or a pee during the ol’ slower tunes on an album, I’d challenge that the captivating sound of “County Lines” will keep you glued to your speakers no matter how hangry you think you are. Serenity-level achieved Dr Optimiser – you’ve got yourself an officially soul-soothing sound goin’ on with “County Lines” that has a genuine sparkle & shine to it that can’t be ignored. Dig the switch into a more symphonic-but-subtle sound, I think the melody itself has a gorgeously uplifting vibe to it, and as always, structurally, it’s built on solid ground.
Like, the programming on this record, the stunning production, and the completely wild ideas you’ll find, are simply on another level entirely. Listen to the beginning of a track like “Damascus” if you feel like you need further proof of that as fact. With its bendable tones, frantic electro melody, and explosive beats firing off all around you from the lefts to the rights…Dr Optimiser is basically bending time & space through your speakers on “Damascus” and taking us all along for the ride. Willingly, I might add. No one out there is gonna resist this cut…nor should they try…”Damascus” is as intense & edgy as it is straight-up entertaining & melodic…relentlessly engaging and continually combining new levels of creativity throughout the layers of mysterious & curious tones & notes scattered within this song. “Crimea” also ends up making for a spectacular follow-up to “Damascus” right after, seemingly taking the torch and running with where the previous cut left us & subtly surging into the formation of a brand-new idea. Essentially, Dr Optimiser is working with two very different vibes here, yet when it comes to songs five & six on this album, it’s almost hard to separate them as individual experiences when they flow together so extraordinarily well. Don’t get me wrong, I ain’t complaining – I’m actually digging it quite a bit…something about the way these two tracks appear back-to-back on Borders really felt like they belonged together & added up to one seriously memorable highlight. I dig that “Crimea” roams into more haunting & rhythmic terrain as well…it’s not going to crash through your speakers like “Damascus” did right beforehand, but with the expert mix & sound selection, it will make an impact.
“Oxytocin” is like the perfect blend of Lemon Jelly and Four Tet together…which…I think by that formula & my calculations here, would have to make this one of the best songs out there, like, ever? Alright, alright, alright…I’m not claiming anything QUITE that bold –but the comparisons are certainly valid when it comes to this song and the results truly are incredible. You got that smart edit style via something like Four Tet, and that glowing warmth in the music & melody via something like Lemon Jelly – you might have other comparisons yourself, but for me, that’s right where you’ll find this song. And can I just say – more of a good thing is always a great thing to me? Dr Optimiser has found a really quaint, charming, and relentlessly ear-pleasing, tiny little tune here; it’s nearly five minutes long, but it’s as gentle as your best friend coming by to say hello to ya underneath a rainbow on a bright sunny day. I can definitely understand that a track like “Oxytocin” or say, “Dust In The Oven” later on down the road, might make a few listeners out there a bit restless…but for where you’ll find a few of those people, I’ll show you a 1000 more that are chilling right out to this tune and completely right into it. “Oxytocin” isnt’ punching your speakers inside-out to get your attention – it earns it through a sparkling charm that continually shines subtly, but brightly all the same – every time this song came on, it filled the room with welcoming sound & friendly vibes. As dialed-back & stripped-down as it is compared to the majority of the material you’ll find on this record, I think lots of people will really love this tender timeout that exists on Borders.
One of the unsung heroes of this record will definitely be the comforting sounds of “Socially Mobile.” If you ARE a Lemon Jelly and you dig on your “Staunton Lick,” “Rambin’ Man” or “Nice Weather For Ducks” (etc. etc.) – you’ll find that familiar friendliness in the sparkle & twang of the melody in the music on this sweet cut. Why I say it’ll be an unsung hero, is that…well for me personally, I probably like both tunes that surround it, “Oxytocin” and “Dust In The Oven” just a bit more…but I think for the average set of ears out there listening, “Socially Mobile” perks up the vibe in between these two at an important time on Borders that’ll keep’em all engaged & continuing to listen. You can feel the vibrations pulsing in this tune, you can connect quickly to the sweetness you’ll find in the guitar/banjo samples…all around, tracks like “Socially Mobile” are built to part the clouds overhead & brighten-up your day a lil’ bit for ya. Great use of space in the music and pace to this tune…”Socially Mobile” is welcoming and seems almost like it would be playing somewhere, somehow, even if no one was around to hear it – you feel me? Like if a Dr Optimiser’s Borders is played on a record player in a forest somewhere (yes obviously the kind with electricity) & a tree falls – does anyone care as long as the record’s still playing? That’s what I thought. I’m mixing my metaphors a bit here; I’m sure you get the idea – the Dr is firing on all cylinders.
Dr Optimiser makes great use of digitally-organic atmosphere on “Dust In The Oven” and instantly starts to fill your speakers with highly interesting, textured sounds that are meant to move your brainwaves around. He’s got a subtle, chill, and controlled set of synth elements in the music bouncing off the walls surrounding you…and just past the 2:30 mark, you’ll find that “Dust In The Oven” raises itself up just enough from where it started to get a bit more of an epicness or majestic sound flowing into the mix. Other than that…there’s an argument to be made that “Dust In The Oven” is probably the kind of cut that Dr Optimiser is capable of creating in his sleep by now…the change-ups are fewer & far between, and for the most part, he’s letting the naturally captivating sound of this song take the wheel & steer. While he keeps a steady lid of control attached to this song & never lets it swell or expand too much in any direction, “Dust In The Oven” weaves a solid set of hooks that ears will definitely latch onto; and in behind the scenes, if you’re listening beyond the surface, you’ll find all kinds of rad stuff happening throughout the length of this tune for short bursts of time just underneath or overtop the main melody. So don’t get me wrong…the work has still been put in, and personally I’m still locked into this record; I think there’s an aspect of “Dust In The Oven” that might make its chill demeanor seem a bit easier to make, but I’d be willing to bet when all is said & done, the good Dr has put this cut under the microscope to examine it every bit as much as the rest of the songs you’ll find on this record.
Alright…so…follow me down the rabbit-hole here for a second…cause I’ve definitely got a crazy theory about “Dementia.” Here’s what I’m hearing…I’m hearing a song, with a distinct enough melody – though scattered as it stops/starts/slides around as this short tune plays on…almost like…almost like someone forgot to put a note in certain places or remember to keep playing for a moment. “Dementia.” Then you’ve got this other like, entirely amazing aspect of this song that translates through the final results…the song might seem fractured or missing a piece or two – but am I wrong here or is this still beautiful too? “Dementia.” Sometimes we have to add in our own storylines into instrumental tunes to make it all make sense to our brains…and there’s an element of ‘fill in the gaps with your mind’ to the way that this song moves…I seemed to keep finding comparisons between the song & the subject here. I could be full-on crazy, but I’d be willing to wager that Dr Optimiser is actually saying something extremely unique & poignant when it comes to “Dementia,” and all without saying a single word. Really bubbly & sonically-carbonated sound to this tune that makes it stand apart from the rest on Borders too.
“Gepetto” – this guy can work in my lab any day. Assuming of course that we’re making kickass beats like this & not carving little wooden dolls – if that’s the case, then I’m all-in with Dr Optimiser. That is one MASSIVELY sensational synth line that vibrantly flows through the heartbeat of this song, and with the highly unique & haunting atmosphere drifting around it…I mean…this is definitely a tune that’ll catch the attention out there for all the right reasons. In a way, I kind of felt similar towards “Gepetto” as I did to hearing “Spikes” earlier on Borders…just seems like no matter how many times I heard this tune or how many times it came on, it slid right into my ears with a single ounce of hesitation or protest. Some beats just connect, simple as that – and “Gepetto” is one of’em. The synth sounds of the backbone in the rhythm & melody are brilliantly colorful, lively, and movin’ & groovin’ the whole time…you add in the gigantic takeover of the synth-horns (I think?) or whatever’s making that incredibly powerful transformation in the music of “Gepetto,” and dear readers, dear friends…it’s game over – Dr Optimiser WILL have you hooked on this completely wild cut. Everything he’s got goin’ on here either leaps or creeps through your speakers – and the mix & balance between those elements is spot-on spectacular.
Dr Optimiser ends Borders with “Memories (Album Version),” which looks like the parentheses refer to the fact that this cut pre-dates the record by about eleven months or so, according to what I can see out there. Good move on the Dr’s part though…I think this is definitely the kind of track that has just the right amount of weight to its melody & emotion that it feels like a true conclusion to this experience. Synths, strings, & acoustic based sounds both soar sweetly and spring to life almost shockingly at times with the added Electro treatment it gets along the way…it doesn’t damage the serene atmosphere that exists, just boldly transitions the song in an exciting new direction when it shows up & kinda jars ya a bit. Unique though…very much so…kind of like a cross between Ballroom music & the Electro universe, with a couple quaint acoustic moments to chill out with along the way…”Memories (Album Version)” finishes strong with a touch of added grace & hint of levity in the music’s cadence…adding this former single to the official lineup of this record was a really great move made by Dr Optimiser at the end of Borders. More than a satisfying album to listen to on every level – I thought this was completely fascinating.
Find out more about Dr Optimiser at his official page at: https://www.dr-optimiser.com