Michael Regina – Time’s Illusion – Album Review
Like clockwork I tell ya, Michael Regina is running right on time! One of the most reliable musicians out there in this scene we all share – his instrumental records have landed on our pages in each of the past three years, or four if you include this commentary on his latest album called Time’s Illusion…you get the idea – he’s rockin’ at a stellar pace that has him creating something new, every year. For what it’s worth – whatever the method he’s found for himself is as an artist, it’s truly working perfectly like a flawless machine…not only is he consistently putting out something new for you all to listen to, but whatever his routine might be, continually guides him to quality music you are certain to enjoy as well. Bonus right? Don’t get me wrong – the work ethic in this dude is obviously stronger than most to start with, but it’s not like we don’t come up against artists/bands that can crank out a record per year, or even more in some cases…but just because we CAN listen to it, doesn’t mean we’re always gonna WANT to listen to it – and in the vast majority of cases, I can guarantee ya those scenarios don’t usually involve someone of Michael’s caliber. He doesn’t just make music to listen to – he creates memorable experiences in sound and he’s done that “Time And Again” on his previous records, A Far Better World, Stargazer, and last year’s sensational Zentronique. No lie, I’m a big fan of what this cat creates…it’s always flawless stuff.
Case in-point, as he eases you into the record with the gentle demeanor of “The Chosen Few,” Michael essentially starts putting on a clinic of how to do ambient/instrumental right. While there’s more of a lively beat fueling this particular cut than you’ll probably find in the majority of the lineup by comparison, there’s no doubt that this was a good move to feature “The Chosen Few” at the very beginning of the record…it’s got the right mix of energy & comforting vibes to pull people in. As per the standards he’s set for himself in the past, you can expect to find a range of emotions & moods on display, seamlessly drifting between melancholy vibes and uplifting sound like he could do it all day, every day…and I’m willing to bet someone with Michael’s skills probably could. That being said, I’m all about this guy’s schedule and the rate of his production…maybe he could push it harder and faster or whatever and get a few more tunes out there into the world, I’m sure that’s possibly for the talent he has as a producer & the creative mind he’s got – but at the same time, it would be completely foolish and almost irresponsible to encourage some other kind of regimen than the one he’s employing now that leads to such immaculate and impeccable quality, you feel me? I listen to a song like “The Chosen Few” and the remarkable professionalism that comes along with it from start to finish and I can’t help but fall in love with the music of Michael Regina all over again…the guy is just that good at what he does and there’s no argument to be made otherwise. Admittedly, I’m probably more partial to the lower-key & mellow atmospherically-infused tracks in his catalog a bit more than the upbeat vibes of something like “The Chosen Few” personally – but don’t even get it remotely twisted – I’m definitely not complaining. I’d happily listen to this first cut all freakin’ day if I didn’t know that there was a wealth of pure sonic & sensory gold waiting for me in the ten other tracks to follow, and that’s the facts. So there.
As the sound starts to transition subtly into the more serious tones it’ll present, “Frequencies” meets you halfway in that regard, without plunging too far into the depths of mood or melancholy that he’d be in danger of losing anyone at all, while still giving you a sample of what’s to come if you’re listening to the main melody of the synth in the background guiding us along. On the surface, from the low-end groove to the sparkle of sprinkled synth keys on the top, there’s a ton for people to love right there in front of their ears, or if you’re like me, you’ll be able to hear the stunning contrast that exists between the two main aspects of the layers in this structure & how they work so brilliantly in tandem. Again, I’m probably still gonna advocate more strongly on behalf of a few songs to follow in this lineup, but on a compositional level, and as an indication of the straight-up smarts Michael brings to his music, you almost can’t find a finer example than you’ll hear in the way “Frequencies” plays such a significant role in the way this lineup of songs flows and transitions from the way it started with “The Chosen Few.” It might be mellow, but make no mistake y’all – this cut right here has soul, swagger, and style you can’t miss too…Regina’s played this out really cleverly by introducing appealing & accessible sound up front.
“Days Gone By” would be, to me, a perfect highlight example of how you can hear words in music, even when they’re not there. And no…it’s not like you’ll listen to this instrumental and all of a sudden start singing verses & choruses out of thin air & the power of your imagination…it’s not like that – it’s more akin to how the melody reacts with our brainwaves, and how we interpret that emotion on display. We ascribe what we hear a trait of some kind, based on the vibes we’re absorbing, and in that regard, it’s like we’re having a dialog between the music and our minds – does that make any sense to anyone? It’s the effect of hearing a song you feel like was inside of you all along, just waiting to come out somehow – that’s the feeling I get when I listen to “Days Gone By” – like I know every note & tone it offers by heart. And that’s not to say that “Days Gone By” sounds like something else from out there, that’s not at all what I’m saying, though I’m sure there’s probably comparisons that could be made – what I’m saying is that music like this feels like it’s part of our DNA and the very fabric of our being. You hear it, you feel it, you ARE it – I know it sounds crazy, but I promise ya, it’s not only the truth, but it’s probably one of the biggest compliments that can be paid to a musician or artist of any kind. “Days Gone By” is the kind of song that will find an audience without question, because the degree of audible sincerity you’ll find is outright astounding, heartfelt, and genuinely awe-inspiring – Michael knocked this one outta the park.
With the ticking of the clock & ringing far off in the distance, Michael gives the average every day music listener a bit more of a chance to tie-in the themes within the sound to the title of “Time And Again” – and there’s a lot of accessible vibes working their magic within the flow of the melody here too. Noticeably more lively, bright, and vibrant than the two tracks that surround it – how about that? Maybe that’s what I’m trying to say…but to me, that often directly equates to how listeners tend to receive the music they’re listening to…upbeat & uplifting sound is usually a pretty winning combination with the masses out there, and rightly so. Regina’s got “Time And Again” dialed-in tightly…it’s not like he’s all of a sudden shifted into dance-mode or supplyin’ ya with your Friday night party tune – but let’s be real here too…first off, that ain’t the intention; and secondly – it’s still not actually all that far off in that regard. There is noticeable groove & rhythm to this tune that you don’t always find in the more melodic & atmospherically-based material that Michael creates & produces so impeccably well – and I think the people out there listening will appreciate finding this lighter-side moment wedged in between the sound of the two more decidedly serious vibes surrounding it, if only to break through the clouds & moodiness just a bit in the right comforting way. It’s not really to say that this would be an example of Regina at his most playful & fun…but it’s almost kind of hard not to argue that either – in terms of the context of a record like this and the sound he creates, “Time And Again” would be a stellar blueprint to follow in terms of how to push creatively the borders of the fringes & still retain cohesion & credibility.
When you get to a track like “Noctis Decus,” you can’t help but feel the immediate weight of the emotion Regina’s threaded into his music and how heavy the atmosphere feels. Pensive, thick, and synthetically swirlin’ slowly – I’d probably argue that there’s a degree or two less when it comes to universal appeal perhaps based on its pace & vibe…maybe…hard to say really – ultimately, I’d have no problem putting this track right up there with some of my own personal favorites on the new album. It’s one of the longer cuts on Time’s Illusion, but also one of the most mesmerizing in my opinion…tracks like “Noctis Decus” keep us right at the edge of our seat and front of the experience as we listen to it all unfold, you know what I mean? It’s the kind of song where the sound itself is so impressive that you stick with it, completely locked into the moment and present, not trying to guess as to what might be coming in that next switch, or even feeling like a major transition is necessary…you just kinda go with it. So while it’s somewhat fair to say a track like “Noctis Decus” doesn’t always feel like it really does a lot, by that same token, every second you’ll hear is maximized & realized to its full potential…the magnification effect in audible form, whereby what we do hear, has nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and we can vividly examine every note, tone, and texture in the sound along the way. You’ll love what you find in that regard…at the very least, I know I did – I felt like the captivating way “Noctis Decus” takes hold of us as listeners had an incredible strong grip, despite its delicate, mellow & ambient means.
Personally, I really dig the fact that a lot of the sounds Michael tends to incorporate in the ethereal glow of his atmospheric instrumental vibes have so much in common with what I love from the dawn of the Post-Punk era…bands like The Cure & such, which I’m sure I’ve probably cited in comparison in the past. While the difference between something they make and something Michael creates is still massive in the final results and styles of their music – when you listen to a record like this, you’ll realize a lot of that same mystical, mysterious, and emotionally-powerful sound exists in both realms, and that they have much more in common than you might assume. Like, if you were in an old-school record store from back in MY day kids…believe me, you’d find Michael Regina for sale, and then you’d probably have to cross the entire floor to go pick up the latest record by The Cure, you see what I’m saying? Miles of differences between where you’d find them genre & category wise – but so much closer together in sound at points & related than you’d probably ever guess. Listen to a track like “Remembrance” for example, for the synths soaring through the background…or listen to a track like “Unity Quest” right after for an even more relevant comparison with the way the drums spread out so brilliantly amidst the expansive synth atmosphere. A lot of that comes through the distance applied in the production and how much the drums drift into the music and genuinely become so much more than just a beat – they supply part of the essential rhythm & melody you’ll hear in these two songs as well, especially when combined with the subtle low-end bass-lines. “Remembrance” restores the light into the soul of the album and brightens up the vibe for listeners to dig on…the kind of song that’s as interesting as it is entertaining to listen to, giving us all the best of both worlds. In a rarified moment of Regina’s catalog – you probably COULD even dance to “Remembrance” if you wanted to…but even if you don’t, you get the point I’m making…there’s a liveliness to this cut that’ll connect with the people out there no problemo. Or if you’re the introspective type, believe me, you’d get just as much out of “Remembrance” by sitting & listening without moving a muscle and letting the meditative qualities of Michael’s music work its magic on ya. And if you’re REALLY skilled…imagine being able to bust out a few dance moves AND think about life & stuff at the very same time!?! It’ll be hard without your phones in your hands, but give it a try…I promise the effort will be well worth your time. At the very least, will ya please put it down for just a hot minute & listen to “Unity Quest” with your full focus and attention? No one should miss out on this gem. I am NOT gonna be the guy to take a point away from anything Michael creates when it comes right down to it – the man is as reliable as the purest definition of the word itself when it comes to making music – but we all have those songs that appeal to us more on a personal level & our own favorites, as we always do. For me, “Unity Quest” has such an incredible atmosphere & vibe to it…the melody line is fantastic, but it’s really the way Regina has used the drums here to add such significantly epic & majestic sound to this cut that completely made the difference for me. Tracks with that more noticeable shift into the depth of more decisively melancholy in a way…stuff like “Days Gone By,” “Noctis Decus,” and “Unity Quest” all tie right in together with the heavy emotions they put out there, and for myself, that’s the side of Regina that makes the strongest connection & what I personally like to hear in his music; but again, to be as crystal clear as his production – I’d sit & listen to him in any of the moods or modes he shifts through. To his credit, he makes that completely easy on us by how seamless the fluidity of this lineup of songs on this record genuinely is…we naturally flow right along with it all.
A cut like “Smile Through Sorrow” would also be right up there with some of the best on Time’s Illusion in my opinion – I love this track. Very reminiscent of what you’d find in Boards Of Canada…and given the fact that there really hasn’t been too much that have come along like those guys ever since, and they’re generally inactive for the most part – believe me, anyone with a similar sound or vibe has the potential to fill a giant hole that exists out there in the music-scene. Tough to do it right though, I’ll say that – but I’d also argue that, based on what you’ll hear in this one song by Regina alone, you’d be listening to the best candidate to qualify for the role. To me, there’s just no resisting a track like “Smile Through Sorrow” – it’s just pure genius & audible perfection, full-stop. There are times in many ambient-style or instrumental experiences where you find yourself wanting a bit more of this or a bit more of that – but a song like this one proves Michael knows exactly how to give a song everything it could possibly need without overdoing it or adding that one ingredient too many that’ll throw the whole recipe into chaos. I wouldn’t change a single solitary second of “Smile Through Sorrow” and love how this whole hauntingly beautiful sound is like trying to see an image through the haze of a dreamy fog or mist in the field…so widespread, serene, and spellbinding…it’s kind of really amazing how gripping Regina’s music can be so consistently without having to punch us in the face with sound or go to extremes. A professional at his core, the man makes music with resounding confidence in the material, as so he should – tracks like “Smile Through Sorrow” connect because he taps right into the emotion of the moment himself before transferring & transmitting it over to us. The subtle details that are revealed in this cut at the core of its production and sound are damn near second to none…Regina can absolutely raise the stakes when he wants to, even when starting out at the incredible level of quality like he put out from the very drop on “The Chosen Few” – and a song like “Smile Through Sorrow” proves it, 100%.
The endearing sound of the electro-piano-based melody guiding “A Traveler’s Tale” along is equally spectacular, making this back-to-back combo between “Smile Through Sorrow” and this cut one of the strongest points of Time’s Illusion overall. I can’t imagine anyone out there listening to “A Traveler’s Tale” and not taking a moment to appreciate the incredible beauty in what they’ll hear – Regina’s right on the inside of a timeless vibe that could very well be added to the soundtrack of all of our lives. There’s probably an argument to be made that a song like this one here has a bit more tangible melody for the masses to hang onto as well…or perhaps revealed in a more straightforward manner that they’ll readily absorb – whatever the case may be, their ears are in for an authentically exquisite treat. The heartfelt sound that flows throughout “A Traveler’s Tale” is brilliantly accessible – and even though like so much of what Regina creates it’ll take you through a plethora or your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions – to me, this is the perfect dose of uplifting & inspired sound at the core that really connects. A happy & perky tune is always good to put some pep in our step, don’t get me wrong – but when you stumble upon something like “A Traveler’s Tale” it does so much more for you than any kind of caffeinated Pop song ever could hope to achieve – songs like this…melodies like these…restore the soul – they make this life we’re living the beautiful place it should truly be. Thank-you for this gift Michael.
If you’re an audiophile like I am, a track like “Shrouded In Light” should pretty much leave you as speechless as the instrumental music you’re listening to – the production on this song is outstanding. I swear Michael makes music like the masters play chess…knowing precisely where to place each piece on his boards, where to raise the attack, where to plan for the future moves…strategizing to the nth degree, so that when it comes time to play, he’s absolutely sure of everything he does, and that his next move will make a verifiable impact on the outcome overall. So in the case of “Shrouded In Light” you get this highlight mix of sounds that are close, sounds that are distant, sounds that are enticing, sounds that are beckoning your attention from afar…all perfectly layered in with crystal clarity and shifting around from the lefts to the rights with spectacularly atmospheric ambient vibes. Notably, this is about the biggest shift in terms of the dynamics of sound you’ll find on Time’s Illusion – there’s no doubt that Michael essentially pulls a 180 on ya in between “A Traveler’s Tale” and “Shrouded In Light” – but again, I think he’s spectacular efforts in creating truly interesting material will keep absolutely everyone on board, despite the magnitude of the difference in vibes taking place at this point on the album. The quality is just purely jaw-dropping when it comes right down to it, and there’s just no other conclusion that could possibly be drawn to. I wouldn’t expect everyone out there to feel the attachment to “Shrouded In Light” nearly as much as basically the rest of the entire set on this album, because it really is that different from the bulk of the songs – but I can’t see anyone shying away from it either. At the end of the day, Michael consistently keeps you brain moving along with the music…it’s compelling stuff in any of the many gears he’s revealed, and “Shrouded In Light” will be downright fascinating to many. I don’t know what you actually call WHAT he’s doing here and how the sauce is created…I’m guessing you’d probably refer to it as something like electro-percussion of sorts…whatever you wanna label it as, it’s the most minimal ingredients that stack up into one extraordinarily tasty treat for your ears to enjoy.
With a more flute-driven & airy sound to the final cut…with…hmm…what is that – an autoharp(?) along with it as it starts, the last track “The Fortress” comes out with a more noticeable Celtic atmosphere in the air that mixes medieval times with our modern day. It’s an extremely well-crafted song that puts culture & artistry at the top of its priorities, and there’s another wild degree of epic sound at work that gives a truly majestic thread to tie this last song together tightly. Personal taste wise, I ain’t gonna lie – I’m probably not quite as jazzed about this final track as I was with the rest of the whole set if I’m being honest with ya, but that’s only based on what I personally like, not the quality of the music you’ll hear. If you dig on your flutes & lutes & & poetry & fables & all that, a track like “The Fortress” that combines what sounds like history come to life with gripping atmospheric post-battlefield vibes might be exactly what you’ve been looking for all along for years now! And I’d support your choice 100%, because again, ya ain’t gonna find any mistakes being made by Michael Regina – the man’s a flawless professional – it’s all about what you like versus what you love when it comes to the music he makes, and any choice as to what would become your favorite or favorites, would be fully valid for a whole set of justified reasons. I will say it was a tougher cut to understand in terms of why he might want it included in this particular set of songs that runs through Time’s Illusion, given that it’s by far the largest departure from the rest of the lineup by comparison once you’ve heard it all…but still a high-quality song, all the same. I wouldn’t expect anything less out of Michael’s music…the man truly is entirely synonymous with quality, 100%.
Find out more about Michael Regina at his official website here: https://www.michaelregina.com
Find out what we do at sleepingbagstudios, and be the next to be featured on our pages by clicking here!