For 6 years, I lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a place where, at least in summer seasons, breathtaking light hits the water, begging for a swim, and glitter lines the streets from drag-queen escapades the night before. Oh, and dancing. The dance clubs in Provincetown only stay open until 1am, but good luck having more than two inches of space to move. The floor is packed, especially during that last hour, and DJs often mix dub-step, electronica, and pop. Well, we wouldn’t have much need for a DJ if someone threw on Rhealine’s newest project Alive – three tracks that exemplify contemporary genre fusion at its finest. Even if an MC did insist on turning them tables, this album would, at the very least, provide him/her some very interesting material with which to work.
The first and title track, “Alive,” starts unexpectedly for a group that so insistently self-proclaims itself “poptronic.” On the other hand, the beautiful, teeny-bopper- esque vocals and light (fast tempo) acoustic guitar set up the tune perfectly for another thing this group proclaims themselves to be: a taste of creative, personified edge. Drums enter quickly, adding a simple house-beat on top of which Rhealine places hard pounding piano chords, and gradually increases the use of synth—first one layer, then two, then three. The percussion adds layers as well, just before the tune reverts to the soulful beginning, then hits back hard with more percussion and fully formed synth. In other words, as the song progresses, electronica slowly begins to take the wheel, and the emotional depth created by the first part of the song begins to bubble up and over into a dance experience that could blow the roof off a place.
“Stuck in the Dark” plays on the soulful vibe of “Alive” as well as its structure: simple beginning, simple to complex chorus, simple verse, simple to more complex chorus. Unlike the gradual layering of synth in the previous track, this one pours it all in right away, lending the tune a much darker, more intense landscape. The Ke$ha-like cry in Zora’s vocal timbre combined with the heavy set beats and crashes of string-like synth and otherworldly sound effects—the next level of intricate electronica instrumentation.
The best, most sophisticated part “Stuck in the Dark,” though, is at 2:54 when the instruments all but drop out (only string-like synth remains) to reveal a singular, dubbed-over vocal harmony pattern—Zora’s voice on top of Zora’s voice—amping up both the tune’s breadth of musical range and its subtler loneliness before plunging back into its percussive desperation.
The last track on the album, “Dream,” stays rooted in darkness at first, but instead of starting with vocals against as simple backdrop, it draws its energy from the ‘pouring’ action of the second track. The synth arrives immediately, punctuated with a bell-like sound, and soon invaded by a strong, buzzing growl of another synth layer. The most comprehensive tune on the album, “Dream” then opens up to a slightly lighter sound, as if someone has just pulled back a curtain, letting light shoot through in one, sharp stream.
That light, of course, in this case, is syncopation. After the buzzing growl and a hard knuckled, thick percussion has been established in the verse, a few cleaner drum sounds—as if played on wood or Tupperware—enter the scene on the chorus. As if that weren’t enough to elevate the tune to a more magical, floating level, the simpler percussion is preceded in the next verse by the punctuation of one, high piano key, rather than the bell sound. The bridge then takes the tune and twists it like a dishrag – buzz sound on top of buzz sound, clamped in the teeth of at least three different percussive efforts, topped by long held vocal notes. Perhaps my favorite part of the tune, and a quite brilliant one, is the ending: simplicity arrives once again, bringing the album full circle, with a continuous high pitched synth as everything else, vocals included, evaporate.
Not usually a huge fan of electronica, I must say I was pleasantly surprised by Rhealine’s Alive, and not just because it brought me back to my glittery Provincetown stomping grounds. The album, and each song within it, is well crafted and evolving, causing everything to feel like the best kind of travel: ethereal, magical, and filled with movement, both internal and external. I’m very much looking forward to what comes next from this eclectic group.
Reviewed by Alice Neiley
Rating: 4 stars out of 5.