Synth EP Review: "Mute" by Eric C. Powell
Sometimes, we just want to listen to music for the fun of it, which is absolutely something I do. Sometimes, though, we want music that responds to the world around us and helps us find ways of dealing with it when that world is dark, hard and stressful. In the middle of a global pandemic, we need music more than ever. Eric C. Powell’s EP Mute is his musical response to the “emotions and phases of COVID-19 lockdowns, closures, and shelter-in-place.” He dedicates it to “ those who have lost loved ones and livelihoods to this global epidemic.”
Mute Album Review
As an album, Mute uses synth-based music to give voice to all of the complex emotions that we are feeling these days. Using the palette of retro synth-based music, Eric C. Powell intertwines and layers sounds, exploring different synth tones and timbres to help create strong imagery.
Those synth tones are the first part of the album on which I want to comment. There are a wide range of different sounds that Eric C. Powell expresses with the synths that he uses. There are fluting synths, rough-edged synths and synths that sing with a delicate crystalline beauty. Each of these different synths is deployed in order to further the cause of creating layered, image-rich music that conveys many emotional colours.
Another unique part of Mute are the different rhythms that Eric C. Powell uses. There are interesting beats that turn and twist in unexpected ways, tracks that have metre changes as part of their canvas and again use these elements to add to the different pictures that each track paints as the entirety of the album unfolds.
In many ways, I do view this EP a bit like a work of classical music. It isn’t something that can be easily broken up. Each segment does serve like a movement in a classical composition. They may be separate, but they do come together into one whole that has a broader theme with different variations.
Now I’ll delve into each track of Mute to discuss what it made me feel and the sonic elements that contributed to the overarching sensations that each track gave me.
“Frenzy” is a track that is underpinned by a heavy weight of drums and bass. It has a winding, wandering feeling to it and the lead synth has a surprisingly bright quality to it. There is a quality of intense rushing energy to the track that embodies the idea of a frenzy well. I also enjoyed just how thunderous the beat was on this track and there was a shining quality to the melody that contrasted well with the depths.
The contrast between the rough-edged synth pulse, broken drumbeats and the sweeping higher synths defines “Crash.” There’s a warm glow to the higher synths and roughness underneath. I also was drawn to the use of a metallic sound that drifted through the music. The insistent beat added a strong element of propulsion to the track as well.
“Resolve” starts on spaced-out drifts of synth that flow out into the open spaces of the track along with a rough synth pattern underneath them. The lead synth melody is played on a synth with a flute-like character for a moment before being joined by crystal chimes. That main melody has a ghostly quality as it is played on that fluting synth and the glistening synth notes climb high as the beat throbs away underneath. There’s a string-like sound that sweeps in and provides a nice counterpoint to the rougher lower sounds.
Fragmented vocal sounds open “Shelter” along with bursts of almost harsh sounding synth and that pounding beat. The vocal effect is quite interesting here along with those very bright flashes of moving synth over that powerful thundering beat. Despite the airy flows of synth, there’s a sense of something heavier under the surface. I thought the use of fragment vocal sounds was also quite unique.
“Silence” has an interesting mixture of technological sounding synths and heavy, dark string sounds in it. This is a fragmented, nervous sounding song and I also was a fan of the organ-esque synth that played repeating high notes along with rising oscillations of synth that drift across the surface of the track. I found that this track put me on edge and made me feel a bit unsettled. I think that it plays into the theme of this album well.
Piano chords and a triumphant synth rising over them open “Arise” along with a slow kick drum. The piano moves around a deep bass throb, chords extending out into space, feeling warm over the airy flow underneath along with the slowly growing beat and floating synths. This is a track that bursts with positive, exuberant energy.
“Breathe” starts with deep, hard-edged synth sounds as an angular lead synth melody slides into the track. I enjoy the somewhat edgy sound of that melody, played on more tech-y sounding synths. There’s a lot of movement and power in this track. There’s a sense of forward motion, hopeful but tinged with darker things.
Eric C. Powell has created an interesting sonic exploration with Mute. The idea of exploring the phases and emotions associated with the global pandemic and its attendant challenges is an interesting one and I felt that it was well executed on this album. There’s a real layered, textured feeling to the sounds that I definitely dug and I’m glad that this music is out there now.