Sensual synth-pop

The Rude Awakening is a collaborative effort led by musician, promoter and radio presenter, Johnny Normal and singer/songwriter Bridget Gray. Visually, the duo’s striking image presents a fuse of the magical abstract; the setting – a clean futuristic space – enough to stir sufficient amounts of intrigue.

Having recently been dubbed 2018’s most promising new electro act, back in December, as part of TEC’s end of year review, The Rude Awakening featuring Bridget Gray, and their debut album Kaleidoscope, does not venture too far off course, if at all.

It’s been around seven months in the making, and rest assured, it has been well worth the wait. Finally released on the 19th January, this much anticipated twelve-track work delivers a confident feeling of connection – igniting internal sparks with sufficient helpings of secret connotations. The darker more sensual aspects of the human relationships explored here are not a million miles away from some elements that define the storyline to Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret – both in dialogue and soundtrack.

The narrative is both stunning, sometimes taboo, often daring and, optical instruments aside, it demands an exploration of every layer of the human senses and imagination. In this case, the intense reflection is carefully scripted around experimentation and challenge; an urban couple, tilted towards each other and rediscovering their personal and unique journey, their fantasies and the internal monologue that defines and drives their desires. The music of course, complete with vocal placements, complements all of these aspects to pleasing effect – the obvious talents of Bridget Gray adding a unique, otherworldly-like dimension, and considering the contrasting vocals of Johnny Normal, it doesn’t stray too far from a modern-day Visage crossed with Soft Cell.

‘Let Nothing Take Your Pride’, featuring the vocals of Brooke Calder, is a dazzling opener – and not least, it’ll exploit your energy level. But not only that, the lyrics are all very relevant to many a recognisable scenario. It reveals itself in the most sparkling, flamboyant, silver-sequinned fashion, and if you liked Duran Duran’s ‘Reflex’, you might notice some of those iridescent particles finding their way into the dance space right here. In complete contrast, with a move towards anticipation and expectation, cue ‘Your Wetness is My Weakness’. Its introduction is both possessive and provocative, the pace slower and more sensual and, for sure, several hues darker than the previous track. It’s the album’s very own masquerade ball. Our characters here gradually come out from behind their decorative masks, as the album rotates to its most erotic, the chorus creating its own beautiful climax with the elegant backing of Bridget Gray’s featherlight vocals. It’s all bathed in vintage sounding synths – think a touch of film noir ambience with darkened chimes – just enough to tantalise.

By way of a fast-paced soundtrack we get ‘Fuck Puppet’ – the bass line offering up visions of surroundings that give way to a blur of florescence and luminance; yet despite the sheer speeds, the track is not the least bit afraid to derail off the chosen route with a chorus that’s punchy, energetic and articulate. There’s the internal monologue of ‘#FW#FA’, suitably steeped in more of those signature floaty female vocals, followed by the techno spirit of ‘Trite Shite’ – drum work dominating the backdrop here, to which is set, an internal monologue, fashioned around a brand of chaotic, self-importance. It breaks to a great vocal lift on the chorus, with both the male and female voices adding suitable contrast. In fact, closing track ‘Dark Dining’ could get away with being its calmer, more organised, counterpart and reprise.

The very Numan-esque ‘Emerald Dancer’ airs towards the duskier shades of the colour spectrum, once again; evocative, haunting, with a dash of fantasy filmic. Throughout, it’s exclusively defined by the melodic backing vocals that intertwine with the musical characteristics, all in a hugely atmospheric way – every nuance being perfectly placed to arouse emotions.

There’s a modern lift with ‘Another Song’ – once again, exposing Bridget’s vocals nicely, and despite the softness of their fabric, they’re simultaneously expressive. On the instrumental side, the midsection lift drives a heightened tuneful and catchy burst, but what is potentially a contender for Bridget’s showpiece is ‘Butterflies,’ penned by Bridget, and showcasing her musical talents with that piano work that is beautifully lyrical – it’s a daydream of breath-taking and colourful beauty. Here, the vocals appear stripped bare to expose all their splendour, accompanied by a pace that radiates calm. The chorus gives opportunity to echoes of male vocal – very much in the background – yet once again, interplay is immensely effective. The music transitions briefly towards the end; a climax that portrays a new level of joy.

‘To Say Goodbye’ is another nod to Soft Cell, dictated by a force of synth bassline, while ‘Star’ sends the sparkle back to a techno beat mix intro, presenting another energetic and catchy track before it edges to a futuristic-feeling outro. Title track ‘Kaleidoscope’ shows a more modern personality – it chugs, chimes and drives in a level-headed way and then lifts and surges to its greater heights.

As an album, Kaleidoscope is definitely one of contrasts and it takes a certain amount of artistic courage to come up with something this ambitious, and for it to actually be good. Interestingly, the majority of the fat, rich sounds you’ll hear here, are from the Access Virus Ti, which is the same synth still favoured by Gary Numan. The synth work itself – a large part of the tapestry, of course, for any electro synth pop fan – feels simplistic vintage, steeped in expression and mood, and as each of the tracks reveal themselves, the work shifts seamlessly between light and dark. The music gives a feel of selective motion pictures, driving definitive imagery sequences; a sensuous exploration that is haunting, tantalising, energetic, timely and ultimately, well told.

There are many highlights on this album, not least, the perfectly polarised vocals – expertly balanced and offered up in outstanding measures, giving the work that unquestionable, unique twist; a very special interaction that is musical in its own right and defines its originality. Bridget’s voice is continuously reflected in differing forms and roles – a multi-talent, while it’s also evident just what an effective and expressive vocal Johnny Normal has.

In summary, each one of our characters has played their role in telling their story and there’s an immense quality to the song writing. To that end, we urge you to delve in deeper and explore their objectives even further and be the author of your own listening experience.

Kaleidoscope should without doubt, receive the great accolade it deserves. The more you hear, the more you’ll realise that within this genre, this is special – catch them live in Birmingham on the 16th March, if you can.

Kaleidoscope is out now on Pink Dolphin Music/AbNormal.

Buy: Pink Dolphin Music

The Rude Awakening are performing alongside Among The Echoes, Shiny Darkness and Future Perfect at The Flapper on 16th March. More details:

Jus Forrest
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