This is a review of "Untitled" recorded by Exis. The review was written by Catherine Klein in 2002.
As a solo electronic musician, EXIS (AKA Joe Williams) has a whole world at his fingertips, an entire universe of possibilities and adventures. The creator of every sound, every melody, every rhythm. It is only in this arena that we can really see into the mind of an individual, without the cluttering effect of creative democracy or the restrictions of acoustic performance.
Few people can truly handle all this responsibility. There is nothing I would like better than to review the next Trent Reznor, Vangelis or Aphex Twin. Sadly, I do not get such a pleasure with Exis.
In the past their have been insinuations of artificiality and talentlesness towards the electronic medium, which thankfully saw their demise when it became apparent that several generations of musicians have now harnessed its power and versatility. In a genre that has now been around for more than 25 years, some old school musicians only see synthesisers as real instruments, opposing the use of samples and software based instruments ("soft-synths"). A whole generation gap now exists.
As a result, there is a vast wealth of talent to compete with and be compared to. Electronic musicians no longer have the luxury of sounding automatically unique. As it dominates every area of popular culture in some mutation or another, an artist has to be very, very different or supremely skilled in a particular style to be hailed as the next sonic messiah. As the competition has risen so dramatically, the musicians who are most successful and fashion enduring are often those who write good old-fashioned songs, with structures and melodies - qualities this CD does not possess.
Joe Williams works on commercial projects when not in the guise of Exis. This becomes more apparent as the tracks unfold, reminding me of an advanced Yamaha synth demo.
"The Hardest Part" 's reverse strings keep the ear entertained for a limited time only and all three tracks rely too heavily on 4-bar loops dropping in and out. Whilst the strings on this track are quite emotive, they are on their own here, as the other instrument parts do not complement, or indeed match its standard. The drum loop is a lovely, off kilter, tightly syncopated, crystal clear beat - but it is the same almost the entire way through. To create great drum patterns, one has to think like a drummer (a contradiction in terms, I know) with their fills, subtle tempo and intensity changes. This will give it the details it needs to seem truly vibrant and possess that slightly unpredictable life of it's own.
The sounds used on this CD are somehow two-dimensional. I assume they are sound card based, as they lack the depth and feel of real hardware synthesis (see, I am old school). A whole midrange of sound seems to be missing.
Starting with an almost comical introduction, "Take Me Back Down" takes us down a darker path, but fails to be genuinely disturbing. An interesting backward sample swaps stereo channels during the track, but this is not enough to keep my interest for long. "Blizzard Out" opens with a rather novel sample of a typewriter, later joined by heavy metal guitar and snare drum. However, the guitar sample is just too short to carry much musical influence. This track quickly becomes tedious and irritating.
In its favour, there is never a moment where Exis fails to create competent, balanced production. He may well benefit from collaborating with a less technically aware songwriter, who could add inspiration to an otherwise well engineered piece of work.