by Matt Howarth, Sonic Curiosity
Roach's EMPETUS album was originally released in 1986. This CD reissue from 2008 offers that 45 minute release and includes a 72 minute bonus disc, The Early Years which features previously unreleased rare material.
On EMPETUS, Roach plays analog and digital synthesizers, sequencers and digital drums. He is assisted by Weslie Brown (whose voice can be found on two tracks) and Michael Stearns (who contributes beam to three pieces).
Before Roach attained his lustrous ambient reputation, his early music pursued conventional electronic paths, although his personal style did tend to flavor what was considered "conventional" with his own liquid sound.
You'll find less tonal atmospherics here, more strident keyboard structures compounding into rolling melodics. Not that ambient foundations were utterly absent, they put in periodic appearances, bridging the more nimble-fingered passages with celestial interludes — but the sonic emphasis is on sprightly electronic riffs that cycle into lavishly hypnotic tunes. Drones creep through the mix, expressing more definition than would be found in later compositions.
A sense of urgency dominates this music, communicating a constant locomotion of delightfully crystalline chords. The songs are decidedly bouncy with artfully impulsive melodies which are spiced with sinuous drones that sweep through the mix like glistening honey. Some passages achieve a boisterous vigor that often threatens to exhaust the listener.
Electronic percussion contributes strong rhythms, injecting additional propulsion to the upwardly mobile songs. There are no tribal allusions in these tempos; the beats are wholly modern and strictly dynamic.
The use of choral voices lends a distinctly Philip Glass air to some of the tracks, matching the rapid-fire style employed with the keyboards loops.
The Early Years features two tracks.
"Harmonia Mundi" was recorded around 1982-83. On this 47 minute epic, Roach is joined by Thomas Ronkin. The music is completely analog and pre-MIDI.
This long-form piece starts with immediate zest and builds from there, maintaining a constant level of engaging tuneage and undulating structure. Attractive riffs are established and coaxed to expand with auxiliary elements entering the flow. New riffs sneakily appear, seeping into the mix like liquid intrusions — often barely discernible until they conquer the melody's prior course. A hyperactive demeanor is accomplished as the deft chords compound into frenzied structures. Each stage leads to levels of higher ascension, culminating in a stratospheric pinnacle of breathless glory. Before that magnificent peak is reached, percussion lends an agile oomph to the tune's increasing density.
"Release" was recorded in 1982 right after Roach's debut album. He is the only performer on this 26 minute piece.
While the pace is less frenetic in this piece, the overall intention is quite similar to the other track. Appealing riffs slide into perfect definition, bolstered by a peppy determination and pursuing a shimmering goal that hangs on high. Here, though, majestic tones blend with delicate keys to produce a lusher sonic experience. The melodies engage in diversions that are gregarious and quite unexpected, all of them equally mesmerizing. Electronic percussion can be numbered among those diversions; the tempos indulge in a slushy passage that is fascinating. The finale flourishes as the central theme is treated to a fragile downward spiral.
The music on both discs offers vibrant nostalgia for longtime fans and surprisingly peppy roots for those who are familiar only with Roach's extremely soothing material.