It’s quite the opening statement to make in an email about an artist.“He was born to a Beat Generation father (the author Herbert Gold) and his mother (Melissa Gold nee Dilworth) literally died in a helicopter crash with her new beau, famed concert promoter Bill Graham (The Fillmore)“.
Instantly your thinking that a) He was born into a well-known family and b) the tragedy that is losing a mother in a horrific accident. It then goes onto mention that he fell in a warehouse accident while scoring his twin brother Ari Gold’s (not to be confused with the fictional Ari Gold) movie resulting in being unable to speak or perform certain tasks due to head injuries. It’s a testament to his resilience to keep dusting himself of and getting on with life.
While recovering he re-discovered some “synth paintings” he recorded while in high school and they have been compiled as “Expanses (Teenage Synthstrumentals)” which sees Digital and CD issue on July 27 on the Electrik Gold label. Doing some detective work I haven’t been able to work out the era these tracks were recorded. I suspect by looking at his family’s history and photos of the artist himself that he is probably in his mid to late 40’s (apologies if I am wrong), so these recordings would date back likely to the mid 80’s, which makes sense with the sounds contained herein.
The music sounds very contemporary. At times there is a certain coldness contained within, in others an experimental touch and others a joyful teenage exploration. The album kicks off with the aptly titled “Intro to Expanses” which does just that, by setting out the lo-fi bedroom like recordings you will hear over the next twelve tracks and takes you into the creative world of the teenaged Gold.
“In Open Air At Last” drum machine beats and undulating Synths lead onto a melodic section which has a certain amount of dare I say, a funky feel with an occasional wah wah synth sound, don’t worry I realise that this description may be off-putting, but the music is not. Pulses of Synths take the track in a proggy sci-fi vein before the music starts to deteriorate and start-up again with lush washes of the wah synth returning. Despite having a n upbeat rhythm there is still a nice level of coldness to the track.
“Departure” electronic field recordings that sound like crickets chirping are surrounded by a variety of synth styles. Slowly unwinding the music has a quality reminiscent of an experimental 70’s soundtrack or something similar (my mind keeps returning to the “Liquid Sky” soundtrack when listening to this). The music is strong on deep thick melody, hand claps, electronic drums and radiating synth explosions. There is a lot going on in the track and as it changes sections with a certain brevity, you get the feeling it would be suited to a film soundtrack covering a selection of scenes. Probably the standout track on the album for me.
“Concrete Sweat” sounding like electronic hip hop beats with metallic drums, electronic cow bell, flashes of Synths that sound like car horns, groovy bass lines and prog synth, the track at under a minute and a half comes across like a vignette that could easily evolve into a much bigger piece lead by the bass line and the flashing Synths.
“Aqua Petal” we have reach peak prog territory with beds of synths weaving their sounds over each other, while squelchy sounds billow up in a looped rhythm. Again, short on time this comes across as a sketch that could ve fleshed out, but it still is an engaging listen.
“Corrosion” sounds like we have been taken to a weird carnival down a back alley in a fairground somewhere. There is a bubbling undercurrent and a certain darker edge in the bassy synths that give off an ominous vibe. The way the track retains a major rhythm throughout the track with its very subtle changes, helps to propel it along. Again Slava Tsukerman and Co’s “Liquid Sky” soundtrack comes to mind with it’s no -wave meets futurist electronics meets prog sounds.
“Lizards Enter The Rain Forest” looping fairground sounds bordering on almost house or trance styles of music weave a thick wall of Synths. Quite possibly the most lo-fi of the tracks contained on the album, the track is enhanced by this sound quality. Half way through the track the Synths drop out for metronomic beats reminding me of Iggy Pop’s “The Endless Sea” before the fairground Synths made their return with hand claps, rhythmic electronics and frantic beats.
“On The North Sea” fast chord progressions, dark thick drones that lead us into similar territory that would be explored years later in “Stranger Things”. There is a mood of uneasiness in the music that is added to by the various sounds from slow drones, rapid fire chords or swirling and circling electronics. Quite possibly the most thematically expansive tracks on the album, it is overloaded in a good way, with multiple sounds complimenting and competing with each other.
“High Clocks” for some reason I am feeling the year 1984 with this track, quite possibly due to the drum machine beats, hand claps and the guitar like sounds (or highly affected guitars). At times minimal, at others woozy, the track is a laid back one with a relaxing feel that feels like its written as a track for noodling. For the most part it steers away from darker sounds until the last eighty seconds were those elements gradually appear, but don’t dominate.
“The Newest Crazy Element” a short vignette which sounds like equipment dying in a slow burn destruction. The track has looped pieces going through it while sounds abound and abut into each other.
“Zion Pools” ancient drum machines and a collection of scattershot electronics that sputter and fizz introduce the first vocal element of the album with a listing of even numbers. There feels like less form in this track than others which is probably due to the different styles contained in it. You get the feel of what it would be like if Gold decided to great a dance track, but he only hints at it, before turning it to a more experimental sound.
“Crossing The Bar” the album’s epic opens with oscillating synth ambience that sounds Luke a heart beat that has slight variations. Frantic drum machine beats and splashing Synths bring a different sound and color to the track. The Synths sounds like you would image lasers to sound like. A rich synth section briefly takes their place before the splashing Synths replicate the pace of the percussion. All Synths drop out leaving the beats which unnervingly sound like a heart beat that is going a little crazy. After a slight fade out they come back with additional drum machine beats and return the track to its early ambient stylings. A guitar/Keytar/Synth solo goes over the beats and ambience, while not successful has a certain tone about it that is something to use in other tracks. With a name like “Crossing The Bar” to do get the feeling of a journey considering the different terrain covered in the track.
“Missing” a different sound comes with the final piece – a purely ambient synth track which is a welcome come down and relaxation from the previous tracks franticness. Over too quickly, Gold has shown that he could nicely extended on this as at one and a half minutes it almost gets started before it’s over.
The music comes across like a precursor to vaporwave sounds and the like some twenty years later. It would be curious to know what the teenage artist was listening to in coming up with the influences for these pieces as they sound like parts have been inspired by 70’s prog synth, early electronic hip hop, possibly soundtrack work like Vangelis and even minimal synth of the early 80’s. While not all tracks are successful, the hit rate is there and the tracks that aren’t as great are also not bad. For a person who largely listens to Ambient and Modern Classical for the blog and anything from Post Rock to Podcasts and Power Violence on my down time, these tracks were a breath of fresh air.
You can more about Ethan Gold here.