maandag 26 oktober 2015

Album Review: Leon Bolier presents WSTLNDER - Atmostopia [September 2015]

Back In The Days, I got introduced to the name Leon Bolier via the premier of his track “Poseidon” on A State Of Trance. My brother had recorded the episode and advised me to check out it this cool new tune with a sick lead. He loved the track a lot and I too fell for its charm. Soon we would be introduced to Leon's magnificent Tech Trance driven rework of Carlos - The Silmarillia, one of my favourite Classics of all time. As 2007 kicked off, I had just returned from the hospital due to kidney problems. In the meantime my brother had purchased a load of Bolier tunes under various aliases, including Back In The Days, The Journey, The Navigator, Bonaire and various remixes. Especially BITD and The Journey grew into big favourites of mine over the course of 2007 and there couldn’t have been a better way to kick off what would turn out to be my favourite year in music EVER. In the following four years, the name Leon Bolier would become synonymous to “the second Rank 1” for me: a unique yet diversified sound on the one hand, backed by consistent quality on the other. Leon did differ from the actual Rank 1 in release output: he released far more music per year than they have ever done. Now I am not going to say that EVERY Bolier tune was brilliant but he did end up putting out some gorgeous and inspirational music in 2006-2011. I was nothing more than a huge fan of this guy and I had expected for those years to extend well into a decade.

Around 2011-2012 however, things began to change. The trio of releases containing Me / You / Us failed to catch me and even though Belmont’s Revenge was an entertaining tune (with a funny videoclip to boot), the Bolierian sounds weren’t getting to me anymore.  The releases that followed after this infamous trio were even less enjoyable for me. By the time Leon released Disco Davai I had to admit to myself that his sound had changed into something that was not for me. It coincided with a period in which I stopped following many former heroes as nearly all of them took a direction I could simply not enjoy from 2011 onward (without doubt the most depressing music year I have experienced to date). However, looking back now, periods like that are merely part of an inevitable process: the changing of musical cycles. I had to learn to accept that. I don’t really know if I have succeeded four years onward, as evidenced by my DELIGHT when people like Ferry Corsten release gems like Anahera, but I feel I am doing better than I did back then. But let’s not get sidetracked.

Fastforward from 2011 to the end of 2014. Via another former-Bolier fan, I am introduced to an EOYC set that Leon had put together. This wasn’t just any set however: it was a set full of tracks under a brand new alias! After the gorgeous Supresa and mighty Precursor aliases, Leon now introduced WSTLNDR, the atmospheric counterpart to the club-heavy (festival oriented) bangers under his Bolier name. I played this set and though I had taught myself to not have expectations solely because of the name “Bolier” being tagged in the mp3, I found myself enjoying the set a LOT. When Leon then  announced he was going to be releasing an album FULL of these kind of tracks, I felt a very joyous fanboy part of me swell up, a part I had thought to be dead after 2011. This persistent, not-so-dead inner fanboy’s enthusiasm got the better of me and I ended up looking forward to the album.

After a bit of radio silence (or perhaps I just didn't pay close attention to my twitter in those following months), “Atmostopia” was announced during the 2nd half of 2015 and as soon as I read the news, I pre-ordered it. Last month it arrived in the mailbox and I listened to it several times. Now that I’ve finally found the peace to sit down and write a review, I’ll give you my thoughts on Leon’s WSTLNDR - Atmostopia longplayer. Here we go:

01. WSTLNDR - Hemera (Original Mix)
We kick off with a typical Bolierian melody lead backed by all sorts of glitching and minimal effects that last up to the first minute. Afterward the opening tune gets a sad/melancholic undertone as the fx slowly start flowing in again and a deep tuned down bassline is added to the mix. A Coldharbour Progressive-meets-Hoovinator-esque extra layer joins in for a few seconds. The opening lead returns and fits nicely with these sad tones. My first thoughts upon hearing this was that Leon took a “Max Cooper” pill. Atmospheric, mysterious, minimalistic but a well carved-out arrangement. The mood is set. :)

02. WSTLNDR - Sparkle (Original Mix)
Here comes the first 4x4 kick! As if emerging from the depths of an ocean, slowly crawling up to reach the surface, Sparkle reveals its sad and melancholic melody lines. The core of what you used to love about Leon’s big (Tech) Trancers prior to and during his Phantasma sound between 2007-2010 is here, but in a more sophisticated manner and in a different BPM range. A very hypnotic dramatic spacey track this, a great continuation of the mood set by Hemera. Slowly Sparkle submerges again, back to the depths from where it came.

03. WSTLNDR - Wasteland (Original Mix)
Wasteland starts with a faint kick and a delayed/reverbed synth... We are only half a minute in and I can’t help but wonder… Is it going to be this album's Creek? :D Oh the funkiness when those hihats kick in shortly before the first minute mark! A short synth-swelling climax is reached 1:20 minutes in. Perhaps it’s not so Creek-ish as this has a more dramatic minor mood. On the other hand, there is a certain trippyness to it that primarily reminds me of Creek. I am really loving the minimal yet atmospheric touch to these first three tracks. So far the album has a very "homesick" feeling to it, or a mood as if its remembering in sadness that which was lost... I wonder in what mood Leon put this together? Whatever it was, I am grateful for it: I am enjoying three consecutive (new to my ears) Bolier productions for the first time in years!

04. WSTLNDR with Fisher -  Save Me (Original Mix)
Fisher’s vocal has been adapted to fit the mood of the album in the build-up part, mr WSTLNDR uses some heavy fx and tweaking for a trippy ambiance. We don’t get some bass ‘n kick until we are two minutes in. I never mind a slow start though, build that mood up with patience! Halfway through we reach the breakdown. Am I hearing saw pads in the background?? OH YES!! Hmmmm, now we hear Fisher unprocessed (or well, barely), she sounds a bit different from what I remember. Luckily it doesn't distract. CHECK OUT THAT BOLIERIAN VIOLIN! The first full-blown melodic part of the album is introduced and it feels like venturing through a realm similar to Phantasma, albeit different... Amazing!

05. WSTLNDR with Evil Sardine - SHO118131 (Original Mix)
The first four have been delicious so far, can this infamous pairing of two great friends maintain that level? It starts of promising at least! By 01:02 the beat hits and drags us into its trippy atmosphere… This is going to be a trippy affaire, folks. Enter 02:04, a typical Bolierian xylophone like instrument starts playing whilst the background pad reveals the outlines of a melody. 3 minutes in we reach the breakdown. The rich background textures that have defined the album are ever present, albeit less glitch fx like in the album’s opener. Subtly that build-up pad is backed by a few tuned down counterparts which don’t fully tread to the center stage until after the climax. A very dreamy, Progressive team-up from Leon and Sied which perfectly fits the flow of the album. After 7 minutes it breaks off into lesser elements until we are left with a pretty bouncy percussion groove… You’ve just gotta love how sophisticated this track progresses from start to finish! And that’s five straight beauties for WSTLNDR. He’s on a roll, isn’t he?

06. WSTLNDR - Mother Computer Z (Original Mix)
When I first saw this name… I had to think of Metroid’s Mother Brain for some reason. Anyway, number 6 kicks off with a choir and a heavily reverbed, rougher xylophone lead backed by some glitch fx before a bouncy kick and some warm flanged pads are added to the mix. This one has a very mellow mood due to the instruments used and its tempo. A simple melody used to an almost hypnotic effect. A touch of mystery is added as a robotic voice pops up in the background, heavily processed and seeming to malfunction. A distorted lead adds the final bit before the track dies down. All in all MCZ sounds very electronic, almost robotic, without doubt the intended effect Leon was aiming for going by the title. It lasts long enough to be captivating, with its slightly rougher elements I am not sure if it could have worked for 6 or 7 minutes. In this case the short duration is just fine.

07. WSTLNDR - Muda (Original Mix)
This one is my least favorite on the album at this point. A bit curious considering its main lead sounds a bit like some of the electro-driven club tracks from 2006-2007 which I used to enjoy from time to time. Sadly the similarity to a (imo) great era for music isn’t going to take away the fact I experience Muda as rather monotone… And the choice of sounds for its lead as slightly annoying. It’s not a bad track per se, but it does fall short compared to what I’ve heard on this album up till this point. I can imagine this working in a live set however. But the home setting isn’t doing it any wonders. Sorry Leon, this one misses the boat for me.

08. WSTLNDR - Crystal Castle (Original Mix)
Droplet fx, a bouncy kick and a funky tuned down bassline build up the track as a few pads appear here and there. Another xylophone like lead grabs the attention here, standing out in the first beatless section. As the beat returns, that funky bassline (with a typical Bolier vibe to it) gets you moving whilst an almost violin-like instrument backs the xylo-lead two minutes in. It’s a nice combination of groove with minimal melodies and you can’t wait for the breakdown to come! This breakdown however is not what you’d expect it to be: 3 minutes in a bassline like synth starts playing and swelling, tempting to prepare you for a heavy climax that doesn’t happen: instead the xylo-lead returns backed by some sweeps to lead you back into the funky groove of the build-up’s bassline. The violin-lead returns and the tension from the build-up returns, giving the feeling that this track is basically building up to something again. Instead it winds down from the 5th minute onward. Perhaps not an in-your-face outstanding track, but very captivating and enjoyable throughout.

09. WSTLNDR - Bellzemos (Original Mix)
Bellzemos starts off pretty minimalistic with a faint kick before the first percussion elements and teasing bassline stabs reveal themselves. One minute in we hear an echoing and stabbing Tech(no) synth line before a Bolierian arp rolls into your field of vis-… eh, hearing. Two minutes in we have a pretty minimalistic track going on with a bit of a monotone approach to it. The breakdown sounds menacing, as if something monstrous is waiting for you to draw closer so it can lash out at you… This “threatening” atmosphere remains toned down if you compare it to Leon’s techy monsters from the past (remember that relentless Boomblasta Remix he did with JOOP?) but for the album standards it does reach an extra level of haunted-ness as these mechanic bells/xylo like instruments climb on top of each other to defy the minimalism in the track. A bit of a spooky track, nothing really outstanding imo but just a nice album filler. Would work well as the moodsetter in a “Halloween Special” me thinks.

10. WSTLNDR - Easton (Original Mix)
This one kicks off with a stronger defined bassline, even though it still holds back in this opening phase of the track. A melody motif reveals itself, utilizing the typical Bolierian note progression I’ve adored for years on end. This is awesome! We get another dramatic/sad melody to carry on the Autumn-nostalgia mood that has defined much of this album. I can’t help but think back of the tracks on Phantasma that carried with them a similar mood. It goes to show that Leon has a truly unique melody style: whether at 140, 130 or 120 BPM, his signature melody style seems to always shine through. This is yet another sweet WSTLNDR production.

11. WSTLNDR - Nyx (Original Mix)
Very hard not to think of That Morning’s intro right now… A similar beautiful atmospheric intro opens the track until we get a bouncy vibe going one minute in. Unlike the Autumn-minded tracks on the album, this one has a very Summer-friendly mood to it. It makes me feel like going outside to greet the sun with a stroll past a park or forest… Too bad it’s all dark and chilly outside at the moment :P The breakdown combines fx with a synth that nearly goes haywire but once the beat kicks in again, it goes back to being a bouncy laidback track. This is one of those “not a single worry in the world” kind of tracks… In a sense it reminds me of Eelke Kleijn - Ein Tag Am Strand (Instrumental). Another great effort by Leon, possibly a 2015 counterpart to Bonaire for me ;)

12. WSTLNDR - Don't Forget (Original Mix)
“Now don’t you forget I still got tricks up my sleeve to blow your mind”… I could see that being the idea behind the title of the album’s final piece. And for me it rings true. We get another atmospheric, fx-heavy, trippy, Bolier-meets-Max-Cooper like affair in the final minutes of the Atmostopia album. A robotic, morphing voice saying “Don’t Forget” is pasted over the first bit of the track, it is so heavily enhanced I can almost hear it saying “Don’t Freak-ooooooout” at some points as well! Overall a very dreamy track that lets you drift out of the album in style. Damn. Did I just have a great time enjoying 11/12 new Bolier productions in the space of 69 minutes??

Razor Verdict
Yes I did. So what can I possibly say? Atmostopia is a well-deserved 8,5/10. In consistent-fashion, Leon delivers a stylish album that sees him innovate on his signature melodies by dipping them in glitch fx, dreamy atmospheres, bouncy kicks and basslines, added with some nostalgic post-summer coating. If his club oriented tracks since 2012 have failed to be up my street, then Atmostopia IS my street, or at least it’s one I’d love to live in. All in all, this album has been like meeting up with an old friend again, an old friend telling new stories and making new memories with you in the process. The Bolier sounds and melodies are as good as they’ve ever been and whether they’re wrapped in Trance, Tech Trance, Progressive, House, Breaks, Ambient or Minimal, if they are processed like in Atmostopia and Phantasma, I’ll always dig them. Final conclusion? Leon has still got it. And that makes me a very delighted Mane.

I’ve done my part in convincing you to get this, now you’ve gotta do your part! Get the album and give your ears a tasty treat. Autumn might be depressing with grey skies and all that but Atmostopia’s atmospheres make it bearable, and at times, magical. Wait not more and get the album now:

| Album Review | September 17th - October 26th 2015 |

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