Rival Consoles Overflow Album Review
Just a few weeks before the end of the year, longtime Techno auteur Rival Consoles (Ryan Lee West) released an album called Overflow. It bears the same title as the modern dance performance choreographed by Alexander Whitley.
I have never been one for ballet. The artform always felt of generations past and a bit snooty. It’s not that I don’t like dance, but ballet in particular felt too evocative of the ruling class. Rigid rules of movement; staunch opposition to any music composed in the last 100 or so years. It’s also not that I don’t have a deep fondness for tons of Classical music. The combo just seemed to drift in a polar opposite direction from my personal aesthetic.
Many years ago, when I was dating a “retired” dancer, I never took her up on invites to go to performances. Had I known now what I know about numerous modern dance companies, I would’ve suited up and gone with her. Not too long after we broke up, I was working a temporary gig at Meany Hall on the University of Washington campus. It afforded me the chance to see some performances – not all dance – that I might not have otherwise checked out. One very memorable performance was by the dance company Momix. The exercise in body control combined with fluid movements and structures captivated me.
Then, earlier last year, I was lucky enough to review the new album by Murcof, called The Alias Sessions. Murcof is one of my favorite musical artists. This album was also a soundtrack to a dance performance (by the Alias Dance Company). Hearing some of my favorite glitchy Techno tinged with Classical music set to a wildly imaginative dance performance continued opening my mind. The possibilities expanded in front of me as I sat at my stereo, entranced.
That brings us back to Overflow.
Overflow, similar to The Alias Sessions, combines extremely contemporary electronic music, innovative dance, and cinematic lighting installations. The experience is immersive, as you can see in the video below for the opening track, “Monster.”
Critiquing the Internet and the effects of social media and tech giants.
The album contains a multitude of rhythmic structures. That includes West’s approach with synthesizers and chopped vocal samples. There are enough rhythmic filaments to be assigned each to a single dancer. The dancer (as well as the rhythm or melody) can be an individual, separate in expressions of sound and movement. Yet, they can remain inseparable from the singular nature of the music and performance. Each part is a whole contained within the larger whole.
That also informs the critique of Capitalism in the Internet Age; the age in which we are ruled by tech oligarchs. It is a many-headed and tentacled being. An onslaught from all directions, from separate tendrils of the single monster. A behemoth deceptively all-encompassing. A “Monster” that attacks every individual within its broad reach, isolated on their own island, unable to fight an insurmountable war. Then it also manipulates individuals to wage its putrid assaults upon each other [via social media]. Can the dancers band together, or are they continuously just a hair’s breadth out of reach of each other? Unable to come to each other’s aid.
Thank you for coming to my TedTalk.
Midway through the album, “The Cloud Oracle” begins with a maddening pastiche of samples of tech industry moguls hyping products at various launches. A slow, somber minor key synth begins to wash up against the cacophony of talking heads. It is attempting to be a balm against a riptide. Soon it is joined by soft synthesized choral touches – reminiscent of Arvo Pärt – and it now sounds like a god’s TedTalk pleading for a balance back towards humanity. Yet, the voices continue on, like an unstoppable Amazon Web Services assembly line across the Internet and the human soul. A track barely three and a half minutes long, feels like an eternity. Much the way 15 minutes doom-scrolling Twitter turns into an hour.
The inescapable tendrils.
Overflow’s penultimate track is aptly titled “Touches Everything.” It might be the neural center of the album and the concept for the dance performance. The Internet and its oligarchs have seemingly limitless reach, including escaping a dying planet to start a colony somewhere out past the Oort Cloud. From one cloud to another? The track starts with an impressive rhythmic pulse; a war drum of sorts. Other rhythmic elements skitter around like bots feeding you clickbait. All the synths have a harrowing tone to them. We are nearing the end for sure.
Wrap it up, B!
I know that we live in an age often lacking the attention span for a 72-minute long album. However, I strongly urge you, dear reader, to give it a deep listen. This is the kind of art that exposes the terror of our way of life while still offering musings of a not-completely bleak future.