Shawn Lee – Synthesizers in Space (Review)
Review by Jack Foley
SHAWN Lee is two things… prolific and talented. Fresh from his recent collaboration with AM, entitled Celestial Electric, Lee now puts out a solo effort, Synthesizers In Space.
The result is one of the funkiest cuts this side of a David Holmes record you’re likely to hear this year. It’s downright essential for anyone who likes their music to be cool, funky and consistently inventive and enjoyable (rather than pandering to the masses).
Ironically, the origins of the LP began at a music store called Switched On in Austin, Texas and the discovery of a vintage “mystery-box” instrument hidden among the old synths and organs that created sounds and textures unlike anything currently in his sonic arsenal.
The result was a focused attack in the studio, creating a set of 11 new tracks based around the “mystery box”, and a range of psychedelic grooves.
Hence, Synthesizers in Space offers a diverse, densely layered collection from a musician known for his ability to blend sunny melodies, smoky grooves and propulsive rhythms into his own inimitable sound.
The results here sound like a convergence of influences… from the Euro chic French sounds of artists like Serge Gainsbourg to the aforementioned funk of David Holmes and a lot of his soundtrack work. There’s hip-hop beats, psychedelia, space-age future funk and retro-leaning cinematic overtones too.
Highlights fly off the LP from the outset, with the funky strut of AJ’s Mood laying the template with its toe-tapping mix of cool bass-line grooves, tinkling mystery box chords and slick beats.
Celestial Waltz follows with a brisker pace, akin to material on the Ocean’s 11 soundtrack, while Galactica ups the tempo still further with an insanely hip fusion of rapid-fire bongo beats, slick synths and a vibe that’s right out of the Lalo Schiffrin/Dirty Harry copybook (albeit with futuristic elements thrown in).
The fun continues with Head Up, a self-confessed party starter complete with Fatboy Slim hooks and block rockin’ beats (not to mention rallying vocals) and Boogie Children (Saturn Day Night), which once again employs vocals (from Earl Zinger) and a deliberate T-Rex glam-rock vibe.
But Lee is also good when slowing down the mood with the slinky Low Riders in Space and Jupiter’s Jam (especially) serving to create an equally satisfying, more chilled out mood… the perfect comedown for the more lively offerings.
Lee, too, is keen to point out that there’s a lot more to the album than the synth sound the title implies, having laid a further foundation in drumming, which he played in real time and captured on analog tape for a crusty, magnetic sound that he likes.
Put together, it makes for the second classic album we’ve heard and loved from Lee this year.
Download picks: Jupiter’s Jam, Galactica, Head Up, Boogie Children (Saturn Day Night), Lost In The Shuffle, Bossa Nova Seela