With the release of Groovebox Messiah Sessions, The Stir Fry Pop Star offers up a selection of tunes that lean heavily into a groove and dancepop direction. At times recalling the likes of Scritti Politti or the funkier efforts of early Heaven 17, there’s a broad series of influences that gel together well under the watchful production eye of Gary Meek (formerly of D-Ream). From the same label that brought us Perpacity (ScentAir), this album similarly provides a uniquely different electronic pop approach.
The Stir Fry Pop Star (aka Ryan Wilson) originally grew up in Croydon in South London, drawing inspiration from a variety of pop culture influences. This included a childhood fascination with science fiction films and TV programmes. Later, this developed into an interest in sound effects and music scores, particularly by the BBC’s symphonic workshop and KPM library catalogues, leading to an obsession with synths, drum machines and sequencers.
Wilson played for a variety of indie bands in his formative years, getting the feel for being involved in music directly. But disenfranchised with the band route, he instead returned to his original influences, in particular music from the early eighties and nineties. Although there was no master plan at work, his ethos was set out to “make music that moved hearts, souls and fancy feet.”
The Groovebox Messiah Sessions album was, not surprisingly, written on a secondhand Roland MC303. Wilson wanted to get back to basics and focus on simple song structures, hence the use of the groovebox. Along for the journey were some familiar names lending their talents, including Pete Steer (Tenek, Sinestar, Agency-V) and Tim Dorney (Republica/Flowered Up).
The writing and production of the album was a lengthy process, taking over three and a half years. But that additional time on the genesis of the album has resulted in a slick production, featuring the right number of tracks with nothing feeling as if it’s overstayed its welcome.
Opening track ‘Slide’ has a shimmering, stylish quality to it. Wilson’s vocals have an easy nature to them that’s both disarming as well as engaging. Some synth strings bolster the composition’s appeal, which also boasts a gritty percussive bass.
There’s more of an insistent groove to the impressive ‘Pale Scene’, its tight rhythms and layered electronics delivering a dancepop delight. “Prehistoric future, for a shallow and pale scene” Wilson cryptically offers, delivering some intriguing word play around the word ‘Paleocene’ in a tune looking at changing scenes and the passage of time.
The album drops down a gear for the more introspective ‘Bullet Proof… I Wish I Was’. It’s a softer, more emotive moment which also demonstrates that Wilson can adapt his vocal style as occasion demands it.
Elsewhere, ‘Dandies’ offers up a more classic synth-pop approach, an up tempo workout full of fizz and sweet synth melodies.
But perhaps the album’s best moment is summed up on the amazing ‘Destroy The Stars’. It’s a composition that seems to distill the album’s diverse influences into the perfect cocktail. The track boasts a slick vocal melody and some engaging electronic rhythms that work their magic across a song ruminating on yearning and desire (“Destroy the stars, so I’ll be the one you come to”).
Meanwhile, ‘Fears And Tears’ weaves in more of a 90s hip hop sensibility into a song that delivers a contrast between a harder attitude against warmer, wistful moments.
Curiously, ‘In Silence (No More)’ offers up a guest female vocal courtesy of Freya Cavander. It’s a more soulful affair with Cavander’s laid-back delivery giving this tune a style and gloss all its own.
Closing the album out, ‘Soul Riser’ drops back into pure groovepop territory. Some inspired sax contributions care of Kerry Williams give this composition a lush, lounge pop appeal to it. Wilson’s earnest “Pushing me further riding faster” perhaps epitomises the album’s aspirational themes in one place.
Groovebox Messiah Sessions will find a home with those that appreciate the more dancier corners of the electronic music scene, particularly of the classic era. Ultimately, it’s a nicely polished collection of tunes that will help put The Stir Fry Pop Star on the map, regardless of your tastes.
Groovebox Messiah Sessions is out 25th October 2020 on ScentAir Records.