It’s always a thrill to come across an album that makes music seem exciting and intriguing just when you think you’ve heard it all. The electronic/heavy synth genre has had a massive resurgence over the last few years. Coming from a place where I love the world of synth and electronic music this is a very good thing to my ears. I’m inspired by these circuit and tube-built worlds where dystopian landscapes, grimy city streets, and desolate space can converge, sometimes even in the same song. There are far too many artists building musical worlds that I love to mention here. I’ll just say that I’m honored to have interviewed quite a few and learn about their process.
Anyways, back to that album I mentioned.
I recently was introduced to the music of Bryce Miller and I’m very happy regarding that introduction. Miller works in the world of film music and design, where his music and sounds are used in film trailers. But if his 2015 album Operator is any indication he should be doing entire films. If you’re familiar with Disasterpeace, Cliff Martinez, Reznor/Ross, and Tangerine Dream then you’ll be right at home on this album. Operator is a dizzying array of 80s movie references, as well as noisier circuit-fed distortion and headier 70s Berlin School fare with a heaping dose of dark synth.
“Voltage” is short and sweet. A melancholy blip of synthetic bubbling and wavering keys that lead into “Ampere”. “Ampere” is full-on sci fi, deep space groove. It’s a mixture of 80s Edgar Froese with more modern touches, ala Ben Lovett’s Synchronicity score. There’s wonky vibes in the underlying synth line, while a slick melody is placed over top to keep things from drifting away. Deft sonic touches make this a beautiful track to get lost in. “Operator” is driven by a late night techno rhythm that is colored in a sweaty disco sheen. A clean key line keeps the track from getting too down and dirty. There seems to be all kinds of moods and emotions fighting to set the vibe here, which makes this track rather mysterious. “Circuit” puts me in the neon decade. The DX-7 sound of the synth, along with that menacing bubbling underneath the melody takes me back to some nondescript Friday or Saturday evening back in my adolescence watching some questionable film I rented. I’m sure killer androids, time travel, and a scantily-clad heroine were involved.
Everywhere on this album there’s a turn to some magical spot that reminds me of growing up on video cassettes. Each weekend it was some other ancient video cassette box I was renting, most of them covered in dust and grime. Some horror, some sci-fi, and most were probably on the Video Nasties list. But despite the schlock-y horror and blatantly exploitative violence and nudity, there was almost always an earnest and emotive score created with magical boxes called synthesizers. They were the hardwired heart and soul of these films. Bryce Miller would have built some serious film score creds in the 80s.
Elsewhere, “Transistor” beeps and blips its way through like some recently-awakened android, while “Static” is absolute analog dread, building tension to maximum levels in just under 2 minutes. “Polarity” feels oddly triumphant in its densely-layered wall of electronic symphony. “Element” has the sonic touches of Tangerine Dream’s late 80s film work, but with a darker backbone and slightly more sinister intent. I could imagine this as end credit music, or listening to this overlooking the ocean. Or another planet.
Operator was meant as a concept album of sorts, with Miller going thru the process of showing, through music, how the mind processes information. If you’re listening to this on cassette(which was released on Cinematic Disco Records here) it works as two parts, with “Part 1” being side one and “Part 2” being side two. It’s a stunning work, both in the scope of the concept and in the execution of composition. But don’t worry, if the concept seems too heady just hit play, grab a beer, and let the songs blanket over you for a bit. It’s a great zone out album, too.
Bryce Miller’s Operator is a beautiful musical work built on a foundation of classic 70s Berlin School, classic 80s film music, and modern sounds. But with all next-level work, it’s tied together by the mind of a truly innovative and original artist. Bryce Miller is that. In the heavy synth resurgence, Miller’s Operator stands very well on its own.
7.9 out of 10