Welcome to the Machine
L.A. label Stones Throw Records reps pretty hard for left-field sounds in hip-hop. When they push into other genres with artists like James Pants and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, they threaten to take a position back beyond the foul pole. Elemental Themes, the debut album from Chrome Canyon, is a synthesizer album that manages to rank as some of the oldest-sounding music on the label.
While his labelmates Mayer Hawthorne and Georgia Anne Muldrow shed new light on soul, Morgan Z’s new studio project drip-filters emotive electronics from the 1970s and 1980s. This album makes countless shout-outs to Tangerine Dream’s synthetic Krautrock and the populist prog-rock of Genesis. Opening track “Beginnings” recalls both in the span of four-and-a-half minutes. Chrome Canyon’s work here makes modern connections to the occasional orchestral sweeps of trip-hop (“Legends”) and the midtempo efforts of nu-disco acts (“Branches,” “Generations”).
The problem is, that’s all there is for close to an hour. Elemental Themes is more like Instrumental Themes—the album’s only vocals are modulated pronouncements on the title track and “Car Fire on the Highway.” Further, the occasional sampled breath and live trumpet can’t mask Morgan Z’s reliance on the same rhythms and musical keys. Chrome Canyon wants to make radio- or club-friendly morsels with the same strategies found in Pink Floyd’s epic instrumental passages, and the resulting album is surprisingly boring.