Slack Armada – EP Review

Chicago solo artist Slack Armada is an ambient/post-rock electronica artist. Inspired by artists like Boards of Canada, My Bloody Valentine, Nine Inch Nails and Mogwai, project founder James Hrabak plans for this to be the beginning of many EP releases under the Slack Armada moniker.

Hrabak’s musical path started on outer realms of indie rock via shoegaze and noise-rock but was dormant for many years. James sees Slack Armada as the reawakening of a creativity that would not die.  He explained: “There was an aligning of the planets. For me, this project feels a lot like waking up, like a rebirth.”

Musically recharged, and emboldened by the creative communities popping up due to the advent of social media, Hrabak returns to his artistic continuum with the self-titled debut from Slack Armada. The EP is an epic all-instrumental offering that recalls the transcendent textures and dynamics of artists such as My Bloody Valentine, Boards of Canada and Mogwai. One instantly recognisable distinction from these aforementioned artists is Hrabak’s use of beats as a primary compositional tool, building sound scapes with melodic dynamics around glitchy grooves.

He explained: “The absence of vocals wasn’t a conscious decision at the beginning. As I was building up the tracks, I thought ‘Maybe I can make the music speak to somebody without the additional guide of a human voice.’ I wanted to let the listener be transported with fewer guideposts.

“This debut is a great foundation for what’s to come. I have so much music cooking now – and I’m very excited about what’s coming next.”

Starting track Rebirth is a song that builds to become dramatic and punchy. The bass line allows for a swooping melody which is backed by crashing drums and organ, synth sounds. Gradually and gently the guitar chords kick in. It’s a little bit like Small Black – pop but with a profound rock feel to it. Rebirth slows in the middle with the synth noises fading out and then it comes to life again, it is reborn. It slowly introduces it’s melodies again and builds to repeat itself, with slight variations.

Your Majesty is completely different from Rebirth; it’s the definition of majestic. The tones glide, the synths expand and the sound of this track is spectacular. It feels like Royalty – it feels like a song that is praising someone or something. It’s the sharpening and fading synths in the background that give this song its majestic quality – they allow the track to feel superior. Hrabak has definitely managed to make his songs speak without the need of the human voice.

Looper is a rock track built around grunge guitar chords, heavy bass and dramatic drum beats. It shows a completely different side to this ambient/post-rock artist. It’s the best track on the EP. As normal for this EP, there are no vocals but once again, this song doesn’t need any. It has a slight reminiscence of Angels and Airwaves which have an atmospheric, space sound to their music. Looper is an explosion of the capabilities of Slack Armada.

Escape Velocity starts off with a deep, dark synth sound but this is suddenly accompanied by a light, tinny drum beat. This lifts the tone of the song allowing the synths to cascade appropriately in the background to build the tension and release it. It’s an atmospheric number with a lot of layers that help to create this track’s intensity.

Slack Armada has released a wonderfully ambient and calming debut EP. It’s more than worth a listen.

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