Persona Rival Consoles Erased Tapes Rival Consoles is the stage name of south London electronic producer Ryan Lee West, a musical outsider and studio isolationist in the loose mould of Aphex Twin, Burial or Actress. He also has a foot in the modern classical/ electronic world of label mate Nils Frahm as well as Olafur Arnalds, the great Icelandic soundscaper. What this all adds up to, in the glitchy grooves and eerie soundscapes of Persona, is deep mystery and a lot of absolutely beguiling magic.
This album — his fourth, joining seven EPs since 2007 — is named after an experimental Ingmar Bergman film from 1966 in which a character is rendered mute by mental illness; she is helped by a doctor and nurse (both also female) who struggle to understand each other and also struggle with harrowing images from the outside world. West says a disturbing shot in the film’s opening sequence of a child reaching toward a woman’s face on a screen, an image talking of a futile desire for connection, inspired him most of all: “the spaces in between”, he says. “Between states, people, light and dark, the inner persona and the outer persona.”
So, heavy stuff. But like many European or British purist producers who deconstruct the tropes of techno, rave, garage and house music, there’s a stunning beauty and majesty to West’s work. The clatter and menace of the title track, for example, matches the best of Burial’s extraordinary work on Burial or Untrue in that it takes what is known about an underground club form — garage, in this case, or more specifically British garage — and uses it as the base for a seven-minutelong, voiceless exploration of urban noise, urban life and, as it draws to a close, urban disconnection and fright. Superb stuff.
The track Be Kind ushers in the middle phase of the album, and it’s here we hear the legacy of Aphex Twin at his calmest. More recent reference points would be Four Tet or beatless Boards of Canada; there’s a delicious fluttering beat and circular, medieval note patterns over a very soft heartbeat rhythm for the entire track. It’s grounding and earthbased, and makes me think of a squadron of silent birds passing by. But then Sun’s Abandon introduces a clattering 1980s new beat core with synthesiser sounds reminiscent of the Stranger Things theme; it then becomes Dreamer’s Wake, with woodblock percussion and more skeletal, faint beats. Untravel is another beatless, classically ambient odyssey. Very Frahm or vintage Brian Eno, it is fathoms deep through big speakers but is really just a signal as music; a slight, mesmerising shimmer.
There are so many quality references to West’s music that it’s an incredibly rewarding listen, due in no small part to how essentially unknowable and timeless it is. His is very much a post-techno sound, rooted in Detroit and Berlin at the end of the 80s and emerging from those dark, robotic times in many wonderful, light-filled directions.