Listening to the new Silentaria release, What’s Real?, I kept asking myself if I’d enjoy it at all if I hadn’t come of musical age in the heart of the synth-pop era. The disc hangs on a very tenuous balancing act. On one side is that sense of retro cool, heavy on the nostalgia and the sort of just-finding-our-way feel of the first noodlings of synth-pop. (Think “Just Can’t Get Enough” and compare that to later Depeche…). The other side is a sound that comes off like it’s trying too hard to get it done without having all the tools it needs. My enjoyment sways depending on how far it leans to one side or the other. When Silentaria (aka Rixa White) hits it, he lays down a blend that calls to mind the good, sequencer-based electronica coming out of the Netherlands and early 80s synth-pop. (If you don’t catch a whiff of Ultravox here and there, you’re not quite listening.) I get a guilty-pleasure vibe from the surging pulse of “Vital Doubts.” It’s partly cinematic New Age, partly a New Romantic-style pop tune from the 80s. (Hello, Classix Nouveaux.) “Real Fantasia” is airy and somewhat quaint, a dance of electronic energy. “Consciousness” coasts along with a strictly-by-the-textbook EDM feel. The problem is that the really catchy tracks are few and far between, and the slavish adherence to influence gets wearisome. In addition, there are spots where the mix can be a bit dull and tinny. (“Oceans of Illusion” suffers from this.) But nothing truly stands out, and the album can’t shake its clear do-it-yourself pedigree. Looking over the artist’s web site, it’s clear that White has put a lot of thought and energy into creating his “Man in the Mask” persona. He posts extensive “here’s what you’re supposed to be hearing” notes on his tracks, and offers at length his own musical philosophies and his background. It’s a bit ego-centric for the quality of what’s offered. This is now my second encounter with the music of Silentaria, and I would suggest that channeling some of this energy into a stronger refinement of his work to start with would be helpful overall. Too much focus on the intangibles, and not enough focus on what listeners hear. The talent is there.
Check out tracks at the Silentaria web site.