ANTIPOLE & PARIS ALEXANDER – Album Review: “Crystalline”

The music industry has long thrived on the collaboration of talented songwriters and musicians, and one of the most successful collaborations I know of is the one between Norwegian coldwave/post-punk project Antipole and British electronic music artist Paris Alexander. Antipole is the music moniker of guitarist and composer Karl Morten Dahl, who’s based in Trondheim, Norway, whereas singer-songwriter, composer and producer Paris Alexander is based in Brighton, England.

Antipole (aka Karl Morten Dahl) & Paris Alexander

While each has released music as solo artists, the majority of their output consists of albums they’ve recorded together or with other musicians and vocalists. I’ve followed them both for quite a while, and have written about some of their previous works – in 2017, I reviewed their collaborative album Northern Flux, and in 2021, I reviewed Alexander’s album Renaissance, featuring his partner Eirene. On May 12, they dropped their latest album Crystalline, featuring eight outstanding tracks.

The music was co-written by Antipole and Alexander, and lyrics written mostly by Alexander, with the exception of the songs “Marble” and “Infractions”, which were written by Eirene. Antipole’s guitar parts were recorded at AGV63 studio in Trondheim, while Alexander’s programmed synths and vocals were recorded at his Blue Door Studio in Brighton. Eirene sang additional vocals on “Marble”. Alexander also produced, mixed and mastered the album. The beautiful artwork for the album cover was created by Anne-Christel Gullikstad.

Listening to Crystalline, I hear strong influences by iconic darkwave and synthwave acts like Joy Division, New Order and The Cure, with a bit of Depeche Mode for good measure. Antipole’s jangly and shimmery guitar work is pretty spectacular throughout, and together with Alexander’s hypnotic beats and dreamy cinematic synths, create darkly beautiful and mesmerizing soundscapes. I also love Alexander’s rich baritone vocals, which have a haunting yet sensual quality, reminding me at times of David Bowie, most notably on “Midnight Shadows” and “Marble”.

Most of the songs have a somewhat similar sound and feel, certainly not a bad thing, as they’re all quite arresting and beautifully-arranged. At 30 minutes and 45 seconds in length, the album seems to pass by quickly, always a sign of a quality work in my book. I like every track a lot, but will touch on some of my favorites. Opening track “Perceptions“, features a strong pulsating groove, overlain with lush industrial synths and Antipole’s intricate jangly guitars. Alexander’s breathy vocals are wonderful, both mysterious and sensual. The video, filmed in black and white and at night, shows Antipole making magic on his guitar outdoors on a cold night in front of a church in Trondheim, while Alexander walks through the abandoned streets of Bath, England.

Perhaps the darkest song on the album is “Bleached“, a beautiful but brooding track for which the guys have also fortunately created a video showing them performing the song, superimposed over rather bleak footage of a large English industrial city filmed along a railroad line. The lyrics speak of a desperate existence in an urban wasteland, which Alexander sings in ominous whispered tones: “Take me. Houses full of lost dreams. Structures gripping the sky. Roads leads to hope, but walking is tiring. Reality is the end. Dead end streets and turnarounds. Windows gaze down upon me. Wandering these city streets, struggling for breath to nourish the blood. Stuck on an island, gotta get off. Get me off my phone, get me off my phone…

Marble” is an especially lovely and melodic track, with a rapid, pulsating beat, sharp percussive synths, and marvelous jangly guitar notes. Alexander’s comforting vocals are nicely backed by Eirene’s ethereal harmonies. “Infractions” has a wonderful psychedelic vibe, thanks to a greater use of spacey synths, while “Sentiments” is a gorgeous four-minute-long tour de force of hypnotic beats, dreamy atmospheric synths and jangly guitars, accompanied by Alexander’s brooding but hopeful breathy vocals.

With Crystalline, Antipole and Paris Alexander have gifted us another stellar collection of exquisite darkwave songs. I continue to be impressed by the consistently high quality of their output.

Crystalline is also available on vinyl and CD through Young & Cold Records

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Connect with Paris:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Find his music on BandcampSpotify / Apple Music 


JOHN ROJAS – EP Review “Amongst the Glass Trees”

I seem to be on an electronic music kick lately, and today I’m pleased to present another artist making interesting and innovative music in that broad genre – Los Angeles-based John Rojas. The singer-songwriter, engineer, producer and multi-instrumentalist has been a fixture on the L.A. music scene for more than a decade as part of techno-punk band MACHINEKIT (originally founded as Dharma in 2012), whose 2022 album I AM JACK’S LONELY HEART CLUB BAND reviewed nearly a year ago, as well as his work with the bands La Bella, Brainfreeze and Badmouth. He created his own recording studio MachineHouse Audio in 2020, and if all that’s not enough, he’s also a terrific writer who does reviews for the website Tourworthy. 

In late 2022, Rojas decided to start recording music as a solo artist, and released a two track electronic instrumental EP IN THE THICK OF IT last December. Now he returns with his second EP Amongst The Glass Trees, featuring four new electronic tracks in which he further explores his love for electronics and composition, creating a raw sense of overwhelming tension in the process. As I alluded to earlier, he’s a talented wordsmith with a gift for describing his music in much greater detail and with more colorful language than I possibly could, so I’ll simply quote his own words about the new EP:

The sequential trip across the instrumental tracks needs no vocals to convey their lyrical and poetic content as the dark ambient tones submit to elegant arpeggiations layered over earworm bass throbs, and succumb to minimalist piano hiding underneath the skittering programmed beats. This EP is split into four-parts as it embraces vicious modalities that indirectly illustrate the fundamental theme of confusion. The only semblance of the subject is the name of each track that surreptitiously creates one elaborate, yet ambiguous sentence to pose as animated thesis. This four-piece epic is an ambivalent mood changer that non-verbally tells the tale of a lonely man lost within the chaos of fake love, while being influenced by his own skepticism and vanity.”

The EP opens with the title track, which starts off tentatively, slowly building with a subtle throbbing synth bass groove overlain with glitches and bleeps, accompanied by occasional gentle guitar strums. At around two minutes, they’re joined by more pronounced sharp percussive sounds as the track evolves into a fully-formed, dissonant soundscape of otherworldly synths, snappy drumbeats and wobbly bass. Late in the track, the music turns more melodic with the addition of haunting piano keys as we transition into “Inside The Rabbit Hole”. A gentle pulsating groove ensues, punctuated by distant horn-like sounds and occasional jarring blasts of harsh alarm-like sounds, giving a sense of impending danger ahead. Halfway into the track, the tempo increases to a near-frantic pace as the industrial synths become darker and more harsh. Everything comes to a dramatic climax as Rojas adds a heavy percussive EDM beat for the final minute of the track.

The third and fourth tracks – “Lovers Paradise Is” and “An Ocean Full of Brains” – are a sort of couplet with a strong Nine Inch Nails vibe. “Lovers Paradise Is” starts off with a quick, head-bopping beat overlain with more of those trippy glitches and bleeps, which are eventually joined by hypnotic pulsating synths that lend a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Around the three-minute mark, some lovely keyboard synths are added as the tempo calms a bit. The music immediately segues into “An Ocean Full of Brains”, which has a more relaxed, introspective vibe, though the glitchy reverb, ominous synths and rather unsettling piano keys still convey an edgy undercurrent. Halfway into the track, the tempo increases to a EDM dance beat as the droning, glitchy synths continue. The tempo calms down in the final minute of the track as the music gradually fades away, leaving us feeling relieved yet still somewhat uneasy.

With Amongst The Glass Trees, John Rojas has created a darkly beautiful and brilliant little masterpiece. In its 20-minute-long run time, he takes us through a sonic journey that’s both beautiful and bleak, filled with an arresting array of sounds and textures to startle our senses and waken our imagination.

The EP artwork was designed by longtime collaborator, graphic designer Jaydee Perales at Wire Mark Design Studio.

Find John’s music on Bandcamp SpotifyApple MusicSoundcloud

DARKWAYS – EP Review: “Neon Lights”

I’m a long-time fan of darkwave and synthpop music in all its forms, and so are millions of others it seems, given the enduring popularity and influence of such legendary acts as The Cure, Depeche Mode, Joy Division/New Order, The Psychedelic Furs, Echo & the Bunnymen, Cocteau Twins, Gary Numan and Clan of Xymox, to name but a few that come to mind. Another lesser-known, but every bit as good, act is Darkways, a rather enigmatic act from Barcelona, Spain that’s the solo project of a singer-songwriter and musician named Marc. His music is influenced by his love of synthwave, darkwave and all 80s music.

I first learned about Darkways way back in 2016 when he followed me on Twitter. He’d just released his debut eponymous album Darkways, and as I did for all musicians and bands who followed me back then – when I only followed a few hundred accounts – I listened to his album and messaged him about how much I liked it. He replied with a thank you for having listened to his album and enjoying it. Fast-forward to six and a half years later, he messaged me a few days ago that he’d recently released a new EP Neon Lights, asking me for feedback. Well, it was love at first listen, and I’m thrilled to share it with my readers.

Whereas Darkways had a somewhat more garage rock vibe, with lyrics sung in Spanish, Neon Lights is beautifully-crafted darkwave, with a more polished sound and lyrics sung in English. The EP features five excellent songs, the first of which is the title track “Neon Lights“. The song is darkly beautiful, with swirling industrial synths layered over a sensuous, pulsating dance beat, all of which create a lush cinematic soundscape evocative of a few songs by the Pet Shop Boys (who I also love). The lyrics speak of casting off the bonds of oppression and enforced conformity in order to live a freer, more honest existence “They scorned us and now we want to set the world on fire. They have belittled us. It’s time they see the flames in our eyes. We will not obey.”

I like the night (and the night likes me)” has a faster tempo, led by an urgent driving beat and overlain with shimmery chiming guitars and mysterious percussive synths. Marc’s vocals have a somewhat ominous, drone-like quality that perfectly complements the song’s moody vibe as he sings of embracing and finding comfort in the darkness and danger of the night: “I like the night. Darkness is my only friend.” Along a similar vein, “Dark & Light” speaks to the evil and good that exists within each of us, albeit to varying degrees: “They don’t understand the beauty of dark & light inside us.” With it’s deep, pulsating groove and spacey shimmery synths, the song has a strong Joy Division vibe.

Young Again” is classic darkwave at its best, with a throbbing synth bass beat and beautiful icy industrial synths. Marc’s vocals call to mind those of Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, only with a Spanish accent. The final track “More than dreams” features a chugging synth bass groove, overlain with swirling cinematic synths and wonderful jangly guitar notes. I really like Marc’s vocals here, particularly the exuberant harmonies in the chorus.

Neon Lights is a marvelous, immensely enjoyable little EP. Darkways recently signed with the RetroReverbRecords label, which will hopefully help bring him the notice he so deserves.

Connect with Darkways:  FacebookFacebookInstagram

Find their music on BandcampSpotifyApple MusicYouTube