Synth Album Review: "Destroy All Robots" by Simon Jones
Simon Jones’ Destroy All Robots is an intriguing concept in the world of synth music. It combines sonorous, powerful narration by the actor Tim Wells with deeply cinematic synth music to tell the story of the rise and ultimate fall of robot rulers who dominate humans. It might not be for everyone, but I rather enjoyed the way in which the music and the narration worked together to create an atmosphere and feeling that permeated the music and, in my opinion, was a very enjoyable listening experience.
First off, I have to say that Tim Wells’ performance as a narrator is a huge part of why Destroy All Robots worked for me as an album. His rich, deep voice and powerful delivery created the sensation of an ancient legend being told. Some people might not enjoy hearing spoken word integrated into their music but for me it was a really pleasing experience. The dramatic nature of the narration worked very well in concert with the music that Simon Jones wrote for the album to create a massive, intense feeling.
he musical backdrop to the narration is equally sweeping on Destroy All Robots. It has a feeling of open space about it and the bass and drums have a weight that holds up the other elements of the music. Another part of why the musical backdrop worked so well was the tinge of tragedy that touched many of the melodies.
Simon Jones also effectively used moments of musical contrast to heighten the emotional content of the narration. There are times when, beneath Tim Wells’ stentorian voice speaking dark words, synths glow and flicker with light. The way in which they provide a counterpoint to the narration only adds to its power.
I am enamoured of the flow to this album. It is only 15 minutes long but it uses that time well. As each track elaborates on one part of the story, it flows easily into the next track to continue the tale. I think that the album is the ideal length. It creates a lot of imagery in a short space and moves everything ahead. Anything longer might have ruined the effect that Simon Jones created on the album.
Simon Jones’ written parts for Destroy All Robots were well done. The tone is suitably dramatic and just a little over the top. The end result is a feeling of cinematic scope. I know that the word gets badly overused but I did get the sense of storytelling on a grand scale because of the big, bold language in which Simon Jones wrote the script.
There is a strong sense of something that has passed into myth and legend in the way in which he wrote the spoken lines. It sounds like a story told by a wise elder to a younger, wondering group of listeners about a time just out of memory.
The whole album is three tracks, so I’ll talk about each track and why it was appealing to me.
“Genesis of the Robots” starts with a wild wind sweeping through emptiness while piano chords echo out behind the powerful, dark voice of Tim Wells. A high chiming synth plays crystalline notes and then the throb of the beat is joined by a melody that is full of air, a glistening light over the throb of the beat. Now the narrator's resonant voice comes into the track, narrating the story of humans facing an uprising by the robots that they have created. As the story says, "A new world is born and the seeds of its demise flash within a billion neurons of silicon and of purest static.”
A penetrating electronic sound opens “A God From The Machine” along with rain falling and thunder rumbling. Tim Wells’ portentous voice moves through the track, telling the tale of the robots toiling to serve their human masters and “providng for their whim, desire and the pleasures of flesh.” There’s a techy sounding melody over that unique rhythm and warm analog synth chords climb over the throb of the beat, touched with a certain tragic quality.
I enjoyed the images that Simon Jones created with his words and music. Tim Wells’ voice is delicious when he speaks lines like, “And now as men sleep, the machine dreams of destruction and darkness” and tells the listeners about how the “mountains will weep blood like sweet wine” and how the robots will bring a “holy deluge of terror and of darkness” to humans and “men will awaken to a god from the machine.” I also enjoyed the contrast of the warmer synth sounds with dark narration.
“Destroy All Robots” opens with oscillating synth sounds and high chimes. That warm oscillation moves against darkness again as our narrator’s voice thunders out the tale of the robot attack on the humans. The melody in this track is shot through with tragedy as it moves under the narration. It seems like all is lost as our storyteller talks about humans being defeated and says, “That was easy, wasn’t it?”
The synths keep calling out, oscillating through the open spaces of the track along with chiming notes. The slightly broken lead synth keeps playing and again Tim Wells speaks. I was drawn to the imagery of the human hero who rises. She is described as, “a single human of purest intent, crystallized will power, unending, infinite, individual…” and in a really fun piece of description Simon Jones writes, “she will seize this synthetic madness and hunt the robots down like rats.”
As I said, Destroy All Robots probably isn’t an album for everyone, but I certainly found it to be a most enjoyable listening experience in between Simon Jones’ musical chops and writing skills and Tim Wells’ deeply powerful voice. I hope that Simon Jones keeps doing innovative things with synth based music and taking it in a fresh direction.