Jay Tholen has been creating his unique blend of chiptune and progressive rock for years now. He’s had releases featured on labels as prestigious as Ubiktune and Pause, and ‘moonlights’ as a game designer and artist (seen through his work on upcoming adventure game ‘Dropsy The Clown’). Adding to his already sizeable musical repertoire, this week Mr. Tholen released ‘The Low Drone of the Earth’, an electronic progressive opus in 7 parts on Swan City Sounds.
The album’s opener, ‘Before The World Began’, sets the mood of the release perfectly. Pink Floydian tones and highly layered melodies flutter over each other, tied together by Jay’s distinctive vocal styling. Despite the high amount of musical layering, dynamics are never affected; Tholen’s compositions regularly drift into subtly soft phrases before building back into a crescendo. Tracks 2 through 7 are tied together into a loose conceptual album, and they blend in to each other seamlessly, helping emphasise a prose-like feeling of the album.
Unsurprisingly for anyone already well-versed in Tholen’s previous works, there is flirtation with a multiple of genres en-masse. ‘I- Voice of the West’ mixes psychedelic rock with electronic meanderings, ‘II- Golem Apollo and the King of the Badlands’ features heavy use of electro-pop vocoders and ‘VI- A Lament’ boasts a weighty post-rock atmosphere. Despite the huge range of instrumentation and musical influence, ‘The Low Drone of the Earth’ still manages to be Jay Tholen’s most cohesive piece of work to date, achieved only through the compositional strength of the music within. Whilst earlier works like ‘Blood Fete‘ suffered from brief interludes of dissipation, ‘The Low Drone…’ feels eclectic and meticulous.
The vocals also sound better than they ever have before, though if you weren’t a fan of Tholen’s warblings or explicitly religious overtones before this record won’t change your mind. Also, the title track fizzles out messily, though these small qualms shouldn’t distract you from the truly fantastic music within.
These negatives feel small in comparison to the release as a whole, however. If you’ve been a fan of anything Jay has released before, you’ll be championing this as his magnum opus minutes in. If you’re new to his work, I can’t think of a better place to start. Tightly-bound, full of direction and boisterous in both its scope and execution, ‘The Low Drone of the Earth’ sounds like the album Jay Tholen has been working towards all these years.