Evocative instrumental electronica

Those familiar with the output of electronic musician Eric C. Powell will acknowledge, perhaps, his skilled hand at producing electronic music that also has a heart – not always necessarily an easy feat. Yet his catalogue boats tunes that have both a slick quality and a talent for evocative melodies.

Powell’s background, alongside partner Andrea Powell, includes being a founder-member of 90s synth-pop combo Turning Keys. That outfit had the honour of supporting the likes of A Flock of Seagulls and Depeche Mode in previous times. But it also proved to be an effective training ground for writing engaging electronic music.

The modern era has seen Powell collaborating with the likes of Parralox, Nature of Wires, LorD and Master and DarwinMcD among others. Tracks such as ‘True’ drip with emotive melodic charm, while ‘Need a Place’, with its soulful vocal from Andrea Powell perhaps offers the best showcase for the combined talents of the pair.

Mute, which represents Powell’s latest release, takes a somewhat leftfield direction in omitting the vocal element altogether. The EP features seven compositions whose inspiration has been drawn from the current Coronavirus crisis. According to Powell himself the tracks represent “a journey through the emotions and phases of COVID-19 lockdowns, closures, and shelter-in-place. It’s dedicated to those who have lost loved ones and livelihoods to this global epidemic.”

Tackling instrumental electronic music can be a tricky proposition. With a wealth of classic artists having put their mark on the genre, it would be easy to either produce a pastiche of the likes of Jarre or Eno. Worse, it can lead down an avenue of derivative noodlings that miss the essential spark that makes such compositions work.

Fortunately, the material on Mute establishes its own strengths across seven distinct tracks with empathic titles for each. Take opener ‘Frenzy’, a dynamic electropop outing which manages to be both engaging as well as fun with a simple, driving percussion to it.

There’s a crunchier aspect to ‘Crash’ with its driving squelchy rhythms and bass tones. A series of repeating motifs keeps the whole thing chugging along, but it never threatens to become repetitive.

Elsewhere, one of the EP’s best tracks is undoubtedly ‘Resolve’. It’s a cunningly subtle composition that seems, on its surface, to be an unconnected series of bleeps and boops. But everything is tied together through the understated strength of the synth melodies that echoes the track’s title.

What really makes Mute work is that while all of these tracks have their own identity, they also slot into place across a thematic whole. The more brooding tones of ‘Silence’ for instance provide a nice contrast to the energy of ‘Frenzy’.

‘Shelter’, meanwhile, is a more angular affair with its synth stabs and upfront percussion. Over this, some smooth melodies drop in and out giving the whole thing a sci-fi soundtrack sheen. ‘Arise’ slips into a more reflective moment with its piano tones, but weaves in more electronic elements to build into a much busier affair.

Finally, the EP closes out with the moody electronica of ‘Breathe’. As with the other tracks on the EP, there’s a synth-driven rhythm which keeps things moving along, while polished melodic touches are layered on top to give the whole thing a smooth finish.

As an EP, Mute is certainly an intriguing approach in crafting a collection of electronic tunes. At the same time, any commentary on the current lockdown drama is largely left up to whatever the listener chooses to project on the compositions as a whole. The magic at work here is also something that works best after successive plays; that talent for electronic layers revealing more subtle colours when revisited.

Overall, Mute shows that Eric C. Powell has the ability to adopt different approaches to electronic music – and deliver the goods every time.

Mute is released 12th June: