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Although the DIY tactic has always been a popular way for musicians to record and release material, the process has never been as fruitful, popular, or exciting as it is today. After all, the advent of newer technologies, coupled with the growing possibilities of social media and self-marketing, make it relatively easy for anyone with the ambition and artistry to put his or her work into the ether. Of course, this results in a lot of pedestrian efforts, but every so often you’ll find a remarkable needle in the mediocre haystack. Fortunately, Olive Skinned, Silver Tongued Sirens Sing Swan Songs, the sophomore LP by REW<<, is one such exception. Packed with dreamy, emotive soundscapes, absorbing production, inventive techniques, and engrossing melodies, it’s a fine example of how beautiful, unique, and creative music can be when it’s crafted entirely be one person.
REW<< is the pseudonym of Ryan E. Weber, whose other projects (such as Camden, Eric & Magill, Decibully, and The Promise Ring) have earned him a significant underground following. Last year, he released his debut solo LP, Departeures, which received significant praise from several outlets. In making Olive Skinned, Silver Tongued Sirens Sing Swan Songs, he aimed to channel his vision “through the lens of a laptop, conveying the open-endedness, excitement and disconnection of post-modern living while maintaining the immediacy of pop.” With its awe-inspiring blend of orchestral treatments, wistful vocals, and indie foundations, the disc is a masterful sequence of touching sentiments, multilayered arrangements, and encompassing timbres that evokes the best elements of acts like The Great Depression, no-man, Sean Lennon, and The Autumn Chorus.
Despite its short length (about thirty minutes), the album packs in more breathtaking moments than many works with twice the duration. For instance, opening gem “Big Fish and the Sirens” mixes distorted guitar, police sirens, high-pitched bells, overlapping vocals, and reverse percussion (among other elements) into an absolutely stunning concoction (especially in the way that these sounds travel between the stereo channels). From there, the more substantial “To Come Unglued” (which is also a single cut) soars due to its Middle Eastern percussion and dynamic variety. Furthermore, outbursts of regal horns allow the chorus to channel the spirit of early Chicago classics, as well as various ‘70s funk troupes.
Later on, the title track is a dense excursion into sublime sonic madness, with a driving bass line and sharp guitar lead leading the way until a flock of heavenly strings turns the composition on its head. It’s a brilliant modification. Likewise, the orchestral dissonance of “ The Lights in the Sands of Katumpkale” makes for a very intense segue into “Swan’s Melody,” whose mournful piano lead and echoed verses undeniably gorgeous and touching. Subsequently, the quickly paced, multifarious construction of “Cupid’s Empty House,” with its swirling chimes and waltzing woodwinds, sounds like the sort of auditory puzzle The Dear Hunter might create. It’s definitely among the album’s best offerings.
With its luscious yet ominous wall-of-sound production (including low piano notes, cinematic strings, clashing percussion, and thumping rhythm) “Indigo Fortresses” feels like a lost track by North Atlantic Oscillation. It also serves as a great penultimate piece, as it juxtaposes the finale of Olive Skinned, Silver Tongued Sirens Sing Swan Songs, “Pasageway to Happier Hours,” well. A repetitious ode (in a good way), the track finds Weber repeatedly saying, “When it’s gone, it’s gone” as modest drum beats, organ, horns, and piano decorate his cathartic delivery. It’s not the most intriguing song on the record, but it’s probably the best choice to finish it.
Beyond cementing the idea that a lone musician can craft wonderfully emotional, colorful, and resourceful art, Olive Skinned, Silver Tongued Sirens Sing Swan Songs further demonstrates that much of the most original and impactful music of today is being made under the radar, without the financial backing, mainstream publicity, or pop culture power of many severely inferior acts. In other words, REW<< is but one of countless artists whose popularity and success are inversely proportional to his talent and necessity. Olive Skinned, Silver Tongued Sirens Sing Swan Songs is a fantastically varied, moving, and imaginative opus, and it deserves to be celebrated.
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