In 1975, composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Todd Rundgren released Initiation, an album thick with the use of synthesizers. Within that album is a song called, The Death Of Rock And Roll, a song written in response to the criticism of his two previous albums. The song begins with these lyrics:
Just the other day I got a call from a friend
"I heard what you been playin' and I think it's a sin
Why can't you make a living like the rest of the boys
Instead of fillin' your head with all that synthesized noise?"
Jackals wait nearby, watching rock and roll die
And no one dared to help it
Vultures fill the sky
Now I have no idea if Erik Norlander knows who Todd Rundgren is or that particular album. He would have been eight years old when it came out. Yet when I see Norlander in surrounded by his many gizmos, I think of that line paraphrased, Why are you "fillin' your head with all that synthesized noise?" Then the next thing that comes to mind with that gear is that he looks the mad scientist of synthesizer rock. Yeah. He probably is. But what he really is, is something like the American version of Arjen Anthony Lucassen of Aryeon fame, except Norlander gets out more.
Probably to some surprise, Norlander hasn't done a solo album of original music in six years. He arrives with Surreal, with 57 minutes of his analog and synthesizer playfulness over six songs: five instrumental and one vocal song that features his wife Lana Lane. Now, as of a year ago, I pretty much gave up reviewing instrumental albums, especially guitar instrumental albums. The reason is rather simple. After about the fourth tune instrumental albums just seem to run together in a premeditated redundancy. This dilemma is compounded by the other simple fact that I don't like synth-centered albums. Can you say Gary Wright and Dream Weaver? Please don't. Geez, I hate that song.
But I digress. And you're thinking, "What the flip? Are you going to say something about this album or not?"
Well, yes. Yes I am.
I'll start by returning to my Rundgren allusion. Not unlike Rundgren's early work, Norlander composes not only for his keyboards and buttons, but for additional instruments. There are proper drums, bass, percussion and, yes, acoustic and electric guitar lines from three different players. There's also cello, contrabass NS Stick from Don Schiff. This composition and collaboration makes for a more well-rounded and fluid presentation for his synth imaginations. He essentially creates songs of melodic progressive rock that have body and depth rather than being one dimensional platforms for that same keyboard geekery. And that's rather impressive.
Mostly the songs are exploratory melodic rock, feeling anything from breezy to atmospheric, ethereal to spaced out. There's an enduring ebb and flow between gentleness and rock rhythm and groove, and also as definitive juxtaposition of his keyboard solos to the guitar solos. Certainly The Galaxy Collectors and El Gran Final reveal these things. But what I think I liked best of Norlander's contribution was his piano lines within Suitcase and Umbrella and Surreal (though I found the latter to be my least favorite song). They have this delicate and classical tone that gives both songs a graceful accent. It makes me wonder if Norlander has ever considered composing for piano alone.
All in all, for all my verbose word wrangling, Erick Norlander's Surreal is quite creative and entertaining, and not necessarily synth oppressive. If you're a seasoned fan of his back catalog or his work with Lane and Rocket Scientists, you will certainly enjoy this album. Recommended.
Erick Norlander's Surreal is quite creative and entertaining, and not necessarily synth oppressive. If you're a seasoned fan of his back catalog or his work with Lane and Rocket Scientists, you will certainly enjoy this album. Recommended.
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