I’d like to think that, as someone who listens to a lot of synth based music, I’ve seen and heard it all by now. However, and perhaps to my own detriment, up until now I have yet to experience anything quite like the sights or sounds of Dan Terminus. A bold claim, for sure, but an even bolder one is to hone in specifically on what I mean when I say that his latest album is in fact an “all around experience.” Before even delving into the music I want to take a long hard look at the album art. It is true, as they say, that one should never judge a book by it’s cover but regardless something must be said for such masterfully done art which entices one in with such intrigue; I felt not unlike that of a curious futuristic tourist looking at a brochure for an exotic alien world.
Which, as I delved deeper into it’s meaning and design, found that to be very much the case. The album’s artwork, and the two others which were done to coincide with the album’s storyline, were done by Luca Carey who spent more than 300 hours painting and constructing their design. The cover art specifically, which is entitled The City of Forbidden Secrets, stands out not simply because of its chosen status as the cover, or for its aforementioned ability to mesmerize and attract you, but again more to an even early point about how the album as a whole is an experience. While the album will be available via digital download, it will also be available on CD and vinyl, to which something can certainly be said for the ways in which we enjoy and engage with media based on format. Digital is easy, quick, and able to go anywhere. It is with physical media that one is often tied down to a certain location where said tangible format can reside and, even though those chains are in place, one should see it more as an opportunity to take a moment and really reflect on the listening experience as a whole.
I say this because the art, and to even more an extent the music, of Automated Refrains reminds me of the electronic music of yesteryear in regards to it’s relation and compliment to the progressive rock genre of the 70’s and 80’s. There was something magical about that era when you found yourself connected to the music not only through your headphones attached to the record player, but also your connection on a whole other level visually when your eyes scanned the cover art in tune with the music; they complimented each other so perfectly. If there were a direct comparison to be made it would be that the overall experience of Automated Refrains gave me much the same euphoric experience that I had when listening to old vinyl albums of Yes that my father owned.
But whereas Yes was made for lyrically storytelling, and the art rather inconsequential in retrospect, the music of Dan Terminus is much like most synth based work in that there are barely any voices to be heard, and therefore the story is mostly in your mind, with the art being complementary in the sense of further sparking that imagination. Dan Terminus has dropped a few breadcrumbs about the story and concept of Automated Refrains, citing it as being about “a world of machines who’ve been left to their own devices,” but he’s also been stated as saying that he believes it’s more important to just focus on the music itself. Maybe we should do just that now, although would saying that an album about a world of machines sounding like it were made by a machine seem redundant? Perhaps, especially when you consider the electronic nature of the music in question, but at the same time I think there is an important distinction to be made here in how it helps it to stand out.
For this I would like to highlight one specific track, “Grimoire Blanc,” which like the album itself ebbs and flows between more lighter fare and the darker variety. There is a steady beat, with distorted drums, and an all around otherworldly feel but within this song in particular there can be found one of the only few instances of vocals. Then again, vocals might be a misnomer as they’re not so much sung but rather stated by a robotic voice which eerily proclaims that “we’re not really alive, we’re just enforced to live.” Dan Terminus, when talking about the process of production on this album, stated that “I love this album as much as I hated birthing it. Each track is the result of a rather complex and convoluted process, which tested all ends of my endurance.”
Each track certainly does feel like an ordeal, even for the listener, but not in a negative sense. Rather it goes back to what I previously said about the album as a whole being an experience, which itself can be broken down into several layers or individual moments that make up Automated Refrains and what it truly is in the end: a journey. You are that futuristic tourist, this is that alien world you wanted to discover, and each song is a different part of your vacation. Make no mistake about it though because, while relaxing in one sense, in another it is exhausting for all the right reasons. By the time the last song ends on this album, you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped through the looking glass that is the cover art and back. However, due to this all around rewarding experience, you’ll be just as ready to turn back around and start all over again from the top.
Automated Refrains is available 11/10 via Blood Music.