Alice Neiley
Music Reviewer
Genres: Singer Songwriters, Jazz, Bluegrass, R&B/Soul, Hip-hop-pop, Folk Rock, Soundtracks, Cover albums, Motown/Oldies, Classical, Show tunes, Indie Pop, Contemporary Pop

Alice Neiley has a BA in English with a minor in music from the University of Vermont, and currently attends Hunter College's Creative Non-fiction MFA program in New York City. For six years in between college and graduate school, she lived in Provincetown, MA, writing in the off season, and earning money each summer working an eclectic array of jobs: retailer, yoga instructor, waitress, barista, landscaper, and English tutor. Each year, when Provincetown's population shifted from 60,000 in the tourist season to 3,000 come November, Alice went back to full days of writing and scoping out new musical artists. Now, she wanders around the streets of Harlem, listens to the classical musicians practicing their instruments in her apartment building at all hours, buys as many student tickets to the Met and New York Philharmonic as possible, explores jazz clubs, and writes at her green desk.

11 Aug, 2014

Electronic music often gathers up so many bells and whistles in any given composition that the listener can barely find the center, the core mood, the melody, let alone their own center of gravity, or, more frankly, that clear, almost physical reason to keep listening that good music provides every time. Of course, this is coming from a listener who doesn't usually spend much time with electronic music, so perhaps others would say the opposite. Tim Gemmill, an emerging artist, recently released Road Songs, an unusually solid, soulful album, especially for the electro genre. The tracks move between lengthy, synthesized epics, playful, funk ridden pieces, and pieces rooted in classical themes and West African instrumentation. To say the least, it's eclectic. To say the most, it's a life and all its rhythms, it's a heartbeat.

"Drone." the first track on the album, is approximately 7 minutes long, and establishes both the feeling of a long journey, and the confidence it takes to see the beauty in the journey's every moment. It begins with strong, simple drum beats and a low drone of synthesizer. Once the electronic piano arrives, the piece moves forward with melody and added percussion sounds, eventually layering with vocals that fill out the track completely. The inclusion of these vocals and continuous montage of various drums and rhythms, primarily syncopation, sustain the piece in its originality and intrigue well past the 6 minute mark.

The heartbeat is not only established within each track, but also how they're arranged in the context of the album as a whole. Gemmill tends to place darker, more grounded songs as bookends to a few up tempo, jazzy pieces--as if to re-root the experience of his music after playful, possibly distracting detours. "ZigZag," "Proteus," and "Pine Siskin" whisk the album into a listening world of funk and games: "ZigZag" could be used as the music to Tetris, "Proteus" as the music in a futuristic dance club lit with the brightest of iPhone flashlights, and "Pine Siskin" as a time machine back to a different dance club, maybe one next door to where the Eurythmics or John Mellencamp were playing. The use of synthesizers for impersonating instrumentation, but mainly for the quick shifts in tempo and characteristic rhythms, give each of these ‘party time’ songs the heartbeat of a specific atmosphere and/or era.

"Invention No. 13 in A Minor," perfectly transitions the album from bursts of fun into a more refined, serious mode. The piece is short, but it's surprisingly beautiful, especially because it's completely based on already existing classical works, particularly those of Bach. Though it's still heavy on synthesized, as it seems are all the tracks, "Invention No. 13" combines the new with the traditional, giving the album a new edge, as well as an unexpected delicacy--it's a refreshing invention indeed.

If "Invention No. 13 in A Minor" slowed our pulse just enough to rest, "Blues for Ralph," jacks it up again, plunging the listener into a completely different universe--a pop to the jaw with a mournful knuckle. It's blues, but electro-blues, so it doesn't feel too sorry for itself, but at the same time, works as the second transition deeper into the length and struggle of a long journey, the darker side of life, contrasting with the lightness of tracks like "ZigZag."

We fully travel back into the darker side Road Songs with "Empire in Quest" and "Fugue," by far the most mysterious tracks of the album, similar to "Drone," but far more ghostly, and more interesting. Minor chords and echo effects make each note bleed into the next--in "Empire," each note itself doesn't seem to follow any sort of sensical pattern in the ear, making the track all the more unnerving, "Fugue' erupts with beauty in its more melodic sadness. Though there is one more taste of lightness, partying, and fun with "No Na Me," a song based almost entirely on upbeat sets of chords played out in strong, wall-like unison, the album does come full circle by the last track. "Red Valley" mirrors "Drone" in the same long toned, echoey, yet creatively melodic way; however, the addition of bongos blanket this closing track with an exotic feel, as well as an even more grounding feeling in the listener's bones.

Contrary to my initial opinions of electronic music, Tim Gemmill gives the heart a jolt or two, tugging a few strings of longing and sorrow as well. He's obviously trying to open up the genre with a new wind, and in that endeavor especially, Road Songs is a success--each transition between songs perfectly timed, each shift in heartbeat earned.

Album: Road Songs
Artist: Tim Gemmill
Reviewed by Alice Neiley
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
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