Fred Vanterra – Mythanien – Album Review
Chances are you remember this name…it was only earlier this month that I reviewed Fred Vanterra’s latest album called Waikiki Synth – and now, being a genuine fan of the man’s music, I’m heading back to the beginning where it all started, with his debut album called Mythanien that was released in 2019. Yes…it’s always a bit crushing on my OCD soul to go backwards in terms of the order of things, but hey – if I haven’t heard something before, then it still qualifies as new music…and that’s always a positive in my world. Plus – no joke, this man has got a tremendous set of skills; I could tell that easily from his new album to begin with, but in digging into his past, I was even more blown away by what I heard for sure.
Like…LISTEN to this title-track start things off, will ya? “Mythanien” is full of cascading beauty and a wealth of drama & melody combined…it’s quite something to experience, and so brilliantly well-played by the steady hands of its creator, Fred Vanterra. You can’t help but appreciate the way this song glistens and glides as it starts, and then hearing the man bring the low-end notes into it…I’m tellin’ ya – it’s something to witness y’all…it takes no time at all for “Mythanien” to get a firm grip on your attention. Once it has it, it doesn’t let go either…even in the quietest moments like mid-song where Fred breaks “Mythanien” down to its barest bones, you’re on pins and needles as you listen, knowing that he’s going to ramp the energy back up again at some point, it’s just a matter of when. Ever the master of our anticipation, “Mythanien” finds its second wind, and roams through its melodic pattern with full confidence, delivering a riotously engaging opening song that proves solo-piano can be exciting.
Don’t get it twisted & don’t get me wrong though…the piano is always an exciting instrument to my ears. I’ve probably heard’em all in some way, shape, or form at this point in my life I’m sure – but piano will forever have my heart. Truly, I’m astounded that one instrument can be so relentlessly charming and beautiful, even after all I’ve heard throughout the years of my life. I used to get up in the morning to the sound of my father playing & practicing it downstairs in our house as I grew up, and there’s still never been a better start to have to a day than that. So for me, whether fast or slow, the piano is probably the instrument of all instruments in my opinion, I just love the sound of it & I always will. When I hear songs like “Taama” by Vanterra, I pretty much fall in love with it all over again – this is an exceptionally gorgeous tune, written and played to perfection. It’s a short track, but Fred couldn’t have played a single note any better than he already has, or perfected the beauty in this melody any further – he got the absolute maximum out of “Taama” in such a way that it’ll straight-up melt your heart. It MOVES you…truly…and as far as I’m concerned, there’s no better compliment you can pay to music than that. Mind you, it has to earn it…but that’s definitely the case with “Taama” – it’s a stunningly beautiful song that you want to repeat, listen, and admire…it’s one of my favorites on this album without a doubt.
“Amry” deserves a lot of credit for the beauty you’ll hear shining early on in this record as well. Quaint and pleasant, Fred’s technique and skills are pretty much astounding here on this third cut from Mythanien. When we talk about ‘feel’ in the way a musician plays, you could point to this track as a highlight example of exactly what we mean…how it’s not only what we play, but how we play it. You can audibly hear the emotion and passion in Vanterra’s music here…the power he puts into each key, or the way he’ll dial back the energy into even softer or more gentle terrain like the way the song starts. The acoustics of a piano are solely within his control as the maestro, and he uses them brilliantly to his advantage as he plays “Amry” – you can hear the volume rise and fall, and you know it’s not the results of someone playing with the studio boards in production, it’s what’s naturally happening as Vanterra plays the song itself. And that my friends, is the ‘feel’ – the inherent knowing of where to apply the energy, the spark, the extra enticing aura & spirit of the sound we hear. Not everyone out there has the true gift it takes to instinctively know what music like this requires to captivate us, but Fred does, 100%.
The DRAMA in “Firnya” is worth the price of admission alone y’all, let me tell ya! It’s actually one of the shortest cuts on the record at less than 2:20 in total length, but WOW does Fred find everything special about this track and put it right into this recording. From the sparkle of the melody on the surface, to the extraordinary depths of the low-end, the range of sound you’ll hear on “Firnya” is staggering for the short amount of time Vanterra has to make this song work…it’s nothing short of impressive. The way it starts out with such BOLD sound as it punches in around the fifteen second mark…honestly, it’s a vibe that clings right to your bones and actually feels like it lasts longer than it actually does. Another thirty seconds or so into “Firnya,” and you’re already well on your way towards the more delicate side of its sound. If anything, I’d have been tempted to make two runs through both of this song’s main halves if I was Fred and doubled the length…I don’t think that’d harm what makes “Firnya” as stellar as it is…I mean…more of a good thing is exactly that, ain’t it? I definitely spent a lot of time with this song on repeat…but I suppose by that token, the same can be said of the album too – it’s fantastic to listen to.
Man. Anytime Fred brings in the low-end, it is a moment you will not forget…you can feel it right in your soul – his use of contrast in melody is remarkably effective. Listen to “Kuha Baza” and you’ll know exactly what I mean…that very first dose of low tones will shake your consciousness! It really is something to witness dear readers, dear friends…tracks like “Kuha Baza” will have you realizing that Fred Vanterra has had the magic from day one. In a lineup of thirteen tracks on an all-piano record, it can often be difficult to establish each song’s individual identity…but it seems like that’s a hurdle that Fred clears time after time, delivering memorable moments you’d recognize each and every time they come back around as you repeat your way through Mythanien. The low-end of “Kuha Baza” is as robust as your morning coffee y’all…and listening to Vanterra dial back the energy into the sweetest moments of this song’s melody is straight-up enchanting. I love the way the two worlds collide as well, like around the 2:10 mark where you get a little of both of the low & the high combined together as one. Vanterra’s quite the writer & composer, and I can’t say enough about how this whole lineup of songs completely confirms that…”Kuha Baza” will have you on the edge of your seat, just as much as relaxed and soothed. Considering how far apart those two poles of measurement would be, it’s really quite impressive to find inside of one song…but that’s the gift Vanterra has…he knows exactly how to make his music move you.
At just over two-minutes in length, “Nemul” wins the award for shortest song. Still a solid tune…maybe a bit more on the inconsequential side of the lineup of songs overall, but I enjoy it. It’s got good bounce to it…and honestly, I could probably listen to Fred play all day, every day if I’m being honest with ya. In fact, I know that I can, because I have…I’ve let Mythanien spin on repeat many times for a full day’s listening, and I’ve done nothing but enjoy the experience. Vanterra’s got a gift for entertaining ya, and I feel like it’s even more pronounced through this past record than perhaps I found his latest one to be. I don’t think he took a step back with Waikiki Synth, but at the same time, I’m not quite sure that it fully possesses THIS degree of allure to it that this lineup has – and yes, I include this short little ditty in that.
For real…sometimes I’d just sit here and listen to a track like “Maryat” and marvel at it…this is all played in real-time as far as I can tell…this is Fred, unfiltered, without a safety net. I mean, he could obviously push record again if he needed to try again, but you get what I mean – this is him playing for you from start to finish…no edits…no studio tricks or gimmickry…at least nothing that I can hear in that regard, and it’s marvelous! I like the playful sweetness of a song like “Maryat” – it’s on the lighter-side of Fred’s music, but it still makes a resounding impact – especially when you dig right into how much is actually being played note-for-note. “Maryat” is one of those songs that feels like it’s moving at a fairly slow pace until you really concentrate and have a listen to what makes this song tick at the core of its DNA – and then you realize that Vanterra’s pretty much been moving full speed ahead for the vast majority.
Am I going to enjoy tracks like “Enjar” more-so than the two short tunes beforehand? You betcha. And it’s the kind of thing I can tell instantly, right from the get-go as this song starts out…there’s just something about “Enjar” that has that extra level of seriousness that I personally really dig on. I wouldn’t quite go as far as to say it’s got more melancholy to it…I don’t really feel like it’s melancholic – just more serious than the playful bounce of a “Nemul” or the lighthearted sounds of “Maryat.” So to me, this is where we really start to reach into that artistic terrain…that thought-provoking sound that makes all the difference to us when we listen, and sends our minds racing along in tandem with the music. Every time Fred reaches that spot around 2:20, I’m completely impressed with the roll he goes on from there – it’s like “Enjar” finds an entirely new gear, and just straight soars on the strength of its ideas right to the final seconds. It’s got an adventurous spirit and a gentle sense of controlled majesty to it…in my opinion, “Enjar” goes from a cleverly & carefully designed crystalline sound, into an all-out epic composition that builds powerfully along the lines of cuts you’d find in the piano-based Mogwai catalog. And if you know anything about me at all, you know that’s one of my all-time favorite bands, full-stop.
I suppose for some out there, a solo-piano record with thirteen tracks could make for a long experience – but you won’t find me complaining. Fred’s done wonders at giving this lineup the diversity it needs to maintain our interest – listen to a track like “Casoley” for proof of that. Even at the ninth spot in the set-list, his ideas continue to excel…the man has clearly put his heart into the making of this record, and in my personal opinion, his dedication and efforts have certainly paid off. I’m really not hearing any flaws if there are any to be found…it’s really only a matter of personal taste and what people respond to – if you’re a lover of piano music like I am, chances are you’re gonna love Mythanien every bit as much as I do…and if you’re not, Vanterra can still rest on the fact that he’s done everything humanly possible to convince ya by creating such a flawless lineup of tunes. “Casoley” explores a beautiful curious and melodic sound that translates brilliantly; it’s the longest song on the album, and justifies every second by generating pure interest through its sparkling sweetness and the smartness of its transitions from part to part. I’d absolutely put this song right up there with the best of the best on this particular album, which is again, impressive when you consider how deep we are into the overall lineup at this point now.
All those good things being said, “Tahara” might even be THE track of all tracks on this record for my own personal taste…I felt like this was one of Fred’s most exquisite and expressive songs, all in one. I like that it also kind of sneaks up on us too…like…you can hear it’s going to be one of the more serious cuts on Mythanien from its demeanor right away, but I don’t think we quite realize the depths it’ll take on until we’re right in the thick of it. With the exception of the playful bounce found in the very end of it, I’d probably be much more inclined to say that this particular track does draw on a more melancholic vibe than the majority of tunes on this album do. Why do I keep bringing that word up? It’s because I know that’s going to be an area where Fred will excel. Think of it this way…he’s genuinely gifted at creating songs that really express moods we can hear in his music…and the saddest of our moods seem to always connect the strongest to us as human beings. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say “Tahara” is outright sad in that regard, there’s no doubt it’s got a more contemplative atmosphere to it that I love. I connect to this kind of seriousness…and it’s kind of because of that, that I was never really sure about the way this song ended. I’m not opposed to it, but by the same token, I wasn’t all that for it either. At the end of the day, we’re talking about mere seconds of sound…but I suppose that’s how I felt about it; the rest of “Tahara” is stunning in my opinion, and right in-line with the kind of evocative sound I seek.
Contrast is key in the making of a song like “Stalaga” – it’s what makes it work & as effective in reaching us as it is. You’ll hear the lightness of melody on the surface, and the surging of Fred’s lowest notes and tones providing a real inspired fire underneath, all played brilliantly together. A genuine case of how one hand washes the other, you need both halves of the sound you hear for it to be as magical and all-encompassing as it becomes…and fortunately, that’s exactly how Vanterra has designed it! I’d be willing to bet this is one of the people’s favorites on this album…and if that is indeed the case, I can’t say I’d blame anyone for that choice – “Stalaga” is a superb tune that’s got a whole lot going for it. From the tangible complexity of its layers and how everything we hear still appears so fluid and nearly effortless, to the depths of skill it would sincerely take to pull that off – Fred excels in moments like this. “Stalaga” brings out some of his most remarkable chops, and he reveals them subtly…it’s another really bold tune when it comes right down to it, but at the same time, he plays this song with a magnificent gentleness and inspired level of control. If you want to hear some of Vanterra’s most emotionally powerful music, I’d say look no further than what you’ll find in “Stalaga” – this whole song sounds like it’s IMPORTANT somehow…like it’s the soundtrack of your own life, echoing back at you, created by Vanterra in the past, and yet still applies to the future ahead. I’m off on a tangent here, but you get it – I freakin’ DIG this cut!
Heading towards a finish that’s every bit as strong as the album began, “Crystarcis” displays pure strength in its crystalline sound, and delivers one of the most noticeably adventurous moods in the whole set of Mythanien. Playing with tempo and timing, “Crystarcis” ends up shifting its gears as it plays on, and gets Fred’s fingers moving faster & faster as you head past the middle towards the finish line. Considering where everything started and how slowly the tempo of “Crystarcis” starts out and the short timeframe Fred’s got to change things up, you’ll be amazed at how quickly this moment builds into the quicker pace that envelops its ending. It’s like Vanterra set his internal clock to cue him into it, and as we move past the 1:45 mark, you can hear him take right off and start to surge with melodic passion. I think everyone’s probably got pieces of what they connect to in this song…like the majority of composers out there, I find I like the slower stuff…but for some, the quickness and big, bold notes and tones are what they’re really looking for in what they listen to – “Crystarcis” gives you the best of both.
“Castelle” makes for a great conclusion to Mythanien…it’s an authentically interesting tune that has a real fascinating melody to it…like a story in itself, told through the notes and tones we hear. Perhaps that’s the best way to describe Fred Vanterra overall – he’s an instrumental storyteller. Each of these songs on Mythanien have really led their own separate life…and yet, as a result of everything being played on the piano, this album also has the cohesiveness we’re looking for too. It’s quite commendable at the end of the day, and no easy achievement either. There’s a ton of effort and heart put into the making of an album like this – and I think that combination shines as brilliantly as ever in the way “Castelle” creates such a moving, intense, and gripping final moment to be enjoyed. While I’ve heard a whole lot of great songs on this record, all flawless as far as I can tell – I think when it comes to what I’m personally looking for in the balance of thought-provoking sound and evocative tones, “Castelle” was the track I turned to the most. It’s gorgeous, it’s stunning, it’s resilient – and it really provided the perfect ending to what’s been a remarkably memorable experience – Fred completely nailed his debut.
Find out more about Fred Vanterra from his official website at: https://vanterraarts.com
Find out what we do at sleepingbagstudios, and be the next to be featured on our pages by clicking here!