Richard Evans will be best known to some music fans as having been a member of indie-pop band James, but this solo work casts him in a very different role. The three track ‘Dream of The World’ ventures deep into synthwave, sharing cold and mechanised melodies straight from the heart of 1984. In terms of going retro, it’s both huge sounding and brilliant; a nostalgic blast of a long gone era, redressed for a detached twenty first century landscape with near perfect results.
The title cut opens with a big drone, but it isn’t long before some great tones start to build a fine melody. Deep, pulsing notes are used to create a very retro rhythm, and Evans layers this with a blanket of synth sounds that aren’t a million miles away from a slightly dour track from ‘Dream Into Action’ by Howard Jones, and the performer finds a very natural vocal mood to suit. With a lyric inspired “by remaining positive in the darkest times”, there’s a pleasing balance between the almost robotic and an aching humanity, but if anything leaves a lasting impression, it’s the arrangements lighter touch, where Evans applies bell-like notes to fill bridge sections, drawing a very heavy influence from early 80s Tangerine Dream film scores.
‘2084’ takes a little more getting into since it dispenses with any flowing sounds to help boost any melodies, but there’s still plenty to enjoy genre-wise. Opening with a selection of detached bleeps and beats, it’s easy to hear a love for things of a Kraftwerk-esque nature, and Evans uses these sounds to his advantage, weaving a spoken vocal in and out of the mechanical tune. As you might expect, there’s time for this to build into something special over the course of four minutes, and at the mid point, the arrival of blanket synths, laser sounds and a light melody that draws from both the classic works of Visage and Euro electronica really helps a once detached arrangement gain vital musical ground. These extra elements are almost certainly designed to appeal to the dyed in the wool Jarre fan, since they share a strong connection with the electronica pioneer’s work circa ‘Magnetic Fields’. If, somehow, you’ve written of any Jarre influences as merely coincidental, the way Evans chooses to deliver the word “revolution” in an almost robotic way should hammer the point home… From slightly wobbly beginnings, this eventually grows into something that’s both enjoyable and striking.
In closing, ‘Motherlode’ offers something almost dance oriented when heavy beats underscore a very direct keyboard riff. This sets up the EP’s most immediate intro, sharing a melody that most synth freaks would love. Moving through the piece, the darker tone, busier rhythms and pop-laden musical hooks suggest something that isn’t so far removed from a Depeche Mode b-side from the Vince Clarke era, but a brief descent into darker synthwave sounds is enough to remind the listener that this neither a piece of buried treasure from decades past, or merely just a piece of cheap nostalgia. Building upon a great melody and applying a couple of understated vocal hooks, Evans sounds like a man keen to take his partially old school synth sounds forward into new places, and armed with a relentless synth bassline and a great lyric exploring machines and a technological overload, this quickly becomes a highlight from the Richard Evans solo catalogue.
‘Dream of The World’ often feels very cold, but somehow, deep within its future-retro style, it conveys a strange reality and a fragility that makes its three songs really work. Whether sharing soundtrack inspired passages or busy synth pop workouts, Evans has an almost timeless ear for electronica, and his ability to blend the mechanical heartbeat of the 80s into songs that feel relevant in the twenty first century leads to a short but very impressive listen. Recommended.