Album Review: Paradigm Drift by Michael Vignola
Michael Vignola is an American composer who has had a long career scoring films and television shows. His music is a unique take on ambient minimalism and on his latest album, Paradigm Drift, he explores the spacier side of synthwave. The album will be released on August 12, 2019. As a whole, Paradigm Drift takes listeners on a journey through the swirling arms of galaxies, into dense clouds of star stuff, and across the black emptiness of outer space.
Review of Paradigm Drift by Michael Vignola
Paradigm Drift combines delicate and crystalline passages with an underlying sense of foreboding and darkness. There are ambient moments and there moments where the listen gets the sense that they are on a spacecraft rushing through deep space, past great star fields and nebulae. There’s a sense of growing hope on some of the tracks, but on others that hope dissolves into an altogether darker and more uncomfortable feeling.
A Track-by-Track Review
The title track exemplifies the spacesynth nature of the album. It starts out with gentle, warm washes of synth that soar over a driving drum beat. Underneath the initial warmth, a quality of foreboding begins to creep into the music. I got the feeling of being a passenger on an intergalactic spacecraft winging its way past great stellar structures, rushing through the void of space. At first there’s excitement, but it begins to melt into a kind of dread by the end of the track.
"Timelapse," the second track on the album, begins with a deep droning bass and surrounds it with a tapestry of echoing, drifting sounds. The oscillating, flickering melody comes in and floats above that sonic tapestry. In my mind, it created a vivid image of watching an object orbiting through the emptiness of space, especially when the drums kick in and add a propulsive quality to the music.
On "Disappearing," Vignola weaves a delicate melody over and through a backdrop of synth sounds and indistinct voices that murmur softly. He has real talent for creating uplifting melodies that are shot through with a sense of melancholy. For me, this track conjures up thoughts about how our lives are in the process of disappearing (whether we want them to be or not).
Michael Vignola is at his most minimal on "Bending Gravity." The dark cello scraping that starts the track is followed by a soundscape that, with only a few basic elements, manages to convey the airless darkness and unimaginable emptiness of space. I was struck by the way in which so few elements combined to create such richness.
"Terminal One" conjures up the image of a spacecraft moving towards its final terminal. The beat propels the whole track forward and the synth lines start off gently, then open out into something far grander. This maintains the energy as the track pushes to its conclusion.
"Falling to Zero"
The repetitive synth arpeggio in the background of "Falling to Zero" floats over an expansive space. The sound of a computer-like “bleep” begins the track, then more synths sweep in over the top. It is like a satellite transmitting a signal as it orbits. There’s a gentleness to this track, but underneath there’s that same sense of a rising darkness that permeates many of the other tracks on this album. The contrast of this shimmering soundscape soaring over terrible depths again conjures up powerful images of outer space.
The sound that starts the song "Looper" seems to be traveling out across a vast distance. Slowly, a drone begins to rise underneath these echoing sounds and continues to grow in intensity, becoming more and more prevalent. It’s a heavy, dark noise. Slowly a gentle, wavering line of bell-like tones starts to emerge and then dissipates again. When it returns, it begins to paint a crystalline soundscape over the darkness that underpins it.
Why You Should Listen to This Album!
For those who are seeking prototypical synthwave melodies and beats, Paradigm Drift will prove unsatisfying. However, when it comes to pushing the genre forward (as the best proponents of any genre always do) Michael Vignola has succeeded. Vignola manages to weave a synth tapestry full of depth and nuance. The tracks with drums on them have a propulsive energy and there are truly dark moments here that add a palpable sense of our insignificance in the cosmos. When you add these new elements to his delicate brand of minimalism, the end result is a compelling voyage through space and across time.