Typically, you can’t hear sound in space — certainly not music. It’s a vacuum lacking the air needed to serve as a medium through which sound waves can travel. To be sure, NASA has recorded the sound of planets as heard through electromagnetic waves, but it’s not the same. It’s not Syntax’s stunning new galactic LP Transmissions.
Transmissions — out now on 30th Floor Records and featuring guest spots from talented folks like HOME, Droid Bishop, and STARFORCE — is a diverse, compelling adventure involving an often-shimmering and seemingly infinite sound palette.
On his album, the San Diego-based Syntax (AKA James Mann) has occasion to take us into the most sacred of spaces on the ethereal plane, while reserving other trips for those moments when everything blasts off into a staggeringly gorgeous transcendent place.
Along the way, Syntax’s influences are apparent. There’s the space-minded ambition Vangelis employed on his 1976 concept album, Albedo 0.39. Shades of Tangerine Dream are splashed all over the various nooks and crannies of the record. The Californian producer also has his Eno moments and never shies away from the opportunity to stretch some Boards-of-Canada muscles.
He has some noteworthy help along the way. On “Lillium,” a cut I like playing on repeat when I’m on the subway, Droid Bishop takes the ethereality of Syntax and turns it into the syncopated chop of Com Truise. The result is a superb cut that instills a sense of wonder about humankind’s possibilities beyond this pale blue dot, as much as it grounds us with the oft-malfunctioning brilliance of Ghostly’s popular synth wizard.
HOME, a Florida-based soul who is somewhat of an obsession for Vehlinggo, also proves to be a great match for Syntax, albeit in a different way than Droid Bishop. HOME is known for making intricate hook-laden cuts that are borderline bangers as much as they are complex and intimate compositions that recall the erudite work of French artists such as College or Sébastien Tellier. The HOME-Syntax pairing excels for this reason.
The STARFORCE collaboration on the title cut is the most obvious, if anything for the thematic inclinations the duo of Kim Lakefield & Chris Highstream shares with Syntax. Obviousness isn’t bad, though. They help Syntax go light-speed toward the most space-oriented experimentations on the record. The washy, shimmering synths, percolating bass, and circular riffage build a tension that suggests some type of four-dimensional momentum that is only barely quantifiable. It’s a beautiful piece of art, this song.
It’s important to note that Syntax certainly is no slouch on his own. Cuts like “Sonar,” “Tangent,” “Vermillion,” and “Startseite” all showcase Syntax’s ability to craft nuanced, complex, and engaging compositions. Taken together with the collaborations, and what we have is an important contribution to music. The world needs stuff like this — work that balances, challenges, and calms all at once.
The record is out now. Buy it.
(Feature Photo Credit: Neon Dream Designs.)