Review: Discoverer - Tunnels
(LP, Digitalis Recordings, 2012)
When released at the end of 2010 on cassette by a small Kansas label Overland Shark, Discoverer’s “Build a Base” didn’t make a lot of fuss. In fact, it passed on barely noticed by anyone (sadly). However, to those who have heard the album, it was apparent that Brandon Knocke (the brain behind Discoverer) was occupying a very special area within the analog revival craze – while he was operating with the same musical language and a set of tools as everyone else in the “scene”, he did not settle for cheap relaxation of New Age, did not go into a parody of supermarket/corporate music that would later get to be called “vaporwave” and was not interested in epic Berlin school suites. His vision of music was a dynamic re-envisioning of synth pop, viewed through the prism of lush, vintage ambient into a futuristic, melodic soundtrack that lacks both the nostalgia and a sense of parody.
Now Knocke gets a better, bigger chance with a better, bigger album. “Tunnels”, coming on vinyl in October from the psychedelic Tulsa label Digitalis Recordings, sees Knocke refining his sound and developing into even more mature regions – a new idiosyncratic style blending computer terms with sexy beats, which can be described as “scientific slow jams” .Thick, bassy leads provide a background for glossy, high-pitched synth noodling and the canopy of spacious drones provide a dreamy, relaxedfeeling, while the slowly rolling drum machine provides a rhythmic backbone with a sci-fi edge. The overall sound is sterile, yet poppy- like hosting a nighttime pool party right next to a laboratory, where the faint glimmer of computer monitors reflects in water, through which a bikini-clad hardbody will occasionally swim and the industrial lasers beam into the starry LA sky.
If there is something that really sets Knocke apart from many of his contemporaries, it’s his competence in writing actual songs. Not just looped scraps of plunderphonic parody, not a few random notes treated with reverb and delay – but actual, full-blooded and perfectly executed SONGS. Every song on “Tunnels” is a potential hit and has a clear, memorable melody which can be actually hummed after a few listens. The only thing that prevents it from becoming an instant oldschool R&B throwback hit album is the lack of sensual vocals. But maybe that’s a good thing being purely instrumental - Knocke is first and foremost an ambientalist, who wants to set the mood and give a good background. And he doesn’t need any words for that.