Back in 2017, we were won over by the gossamer compositions that made up Gishiki (see The Electricity Club’s review). Gishiki presented a contemplative piece of work that drew Japanese influences cast against ambient electronica. That album was part of an ongoing series of releases by Symbion Project, which continues with the release of new album Backscatter.
Symbion Project is the work of Seattle-based musician and composer Kasson Crooker. Keeping himself busy as part of a series of bands over the years (including the likes of Splashdown and Larkspur), Crooker is probably better known as a founder-member of synthpop superstars Freezepop. In more recent times, Crooker has embarked on ELYXR, which featured a series of single releases combining electronic music with a rotating series of guest vocalists.
But Symbion Project has allowed Crooker a chance to delve into the more electronica side of the musical spectrum. Gishiki (which formed the final album in a loose trilogy of work comprising 2007 release Wound Up by God or the Devil and 2011’s Contrapasso) leaned heavily into a Japanese-inspired musical palette. Something which has also crossed over onto the new album release.
As a result, Backscatter features Crooker’s debut performance of the Japanese koto (a traditional acoustic 13-stringed harp) and moments of Japanese spoken-word poetry by his fiancé Maki Waza.
Yet Backscatter is anything but a simple retread of Gishiki, instead aiming for a darker direction with the style of sound. “My goal was to create a work where dark melancholia, anxiety and disillusion, and aching beauty could all co-exist” suggests Crooker on the ideas behind Backscatter.
The result is an album that embraces analogue synths, electronic rhythms and the often treated sounds of the koto aiming towards a moodier soundscape. At times, the album is reminiscent of a lost John Carpenter film score or suggests the synthwave styles that the likes of S U R V I V E dabble in.
There’s certainly a strange otherworldly presence to opener and title track ‘Backscatter’. Its disconsolate tones and synth sweeps take on an almost physical presence, painting a brooding grey soundscape. Despite this, there’s a beguiling charm to the composition which stays with the listener long after the record has ended.
‘At the End of the World’ continues in a similar fashion with sober synth tones dominating across the piece. Meanwhile, Maki Waza’s spoken words step through this unease with a sense of grace.
There’s a more stripped back approach to ‘Blankwave’ with its glitchy beats. Meanwhile, ‘Nature Abhors a Vacuum’ has an odd staccato delivery contrasted with warm analogue sounds.
‘Requiescat In Pace’, meanwhile, has a fragile beauty which carries a sense of sadness in the airy quality of its synth melodies. As a result, it emerges as one of the album’s finest moments.
For those that favour Brian Eno’s ambient outings, there’s likely to be a greater appreciation for the compositions that make up this album. But while ‘ambient’ might suggest a laidback approach to music, Backscatter is peppered with more than a few dynamic moments among its reflective tones.
Tracks such as ‘Aether’ draw forth hints of Vangelis, for instance. Elsewhere, ‘Quintessence’ offers up some haunting and mesmerising moments with a combination of koto and subtle electronic elements.
The hypnotic ‘Blood Coming Out of Her Eyes’, meanwhile, delivers some subtle political commentary. Indeed, there’s a disconcerting quality to this piece built up through layers of sound; a constant unease echoed by the vocal sample repeating the track’s title (and which continues, perhaps, a theme that ELXYR’s ‘Godspeed’ had explored previously).
Backscatter demonstrates Kasson Crooker’s continuing talents as a multi-genre musician. As a Symbion Project album, it serves up a remarkable collection of electronic compositions that have a haunting, melancholic resonance.
Backscatter is available now on the Speed Of Dark label.
Publications that have featured his contributions include Electronic Sound, Metro, Japan Update Weekly, J-Pop Go, Wavegirl and OMD Messages.