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Ethan Gamble – Roy – Album Review

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Experimental music as a genre is rare as it is, and but it’s even rarer to find an album in the genre that pulls in while pushing the limits. On Ethan Gamble’s bedroom-recorded debut Roy, he finds the line between pop and experimental and zigzags across it creatively, with hints of Animal Collective, The Flaming Lips’ Embryonic and Stranger Things.

The ominous sounds that open the album on “Go!” leave the listener child with its unnerving xylophones and siren wails. Amidst a lightly delivered verse and some thick synths its a drone heavy song that may leave some looking for variety. The 80s synths kick in on “Decisions” as Gamble delivers dreamy layered vocals with angelic backing vocals to boot.

Much like the Stranger Things soundtrack, there is dark and vintage inspired sound to “Miami” with some of Gamble’s vocals and unique effects setting him apart. Going into “Night Light” Roy can clearly be split into experimental pop songs and equally experimental soundtrack-like songs, with overlap abound. Yet this track decides to even take it one step further with the complete tonal change in the middle of the track.

There’s exceptional 80s sound to the dreamy pop synth of “Take All Your Time” that with the light bass drone feels like an ambient synth heaven, before going into its instrumental outro. Gamble goes into his heaviest Animal Collective-type track on “Child” as heavy bass notes drop between his rounds of harmonies again and again, before he goes into a chant over some distantly recorded percussion.

There’s a bounce and excitement at the start of “I’m Inside It!,” with its joyful DIY percussion and happy-sounding synth line. The welcoming and positive lyrics mixed with glowing harmonies make this the shortest but sweetest track on the album. Following this is the sombre but emotional track “The Calm Before” with weirdly recorded piano and some of the rawest emotion on the album.

There’s a mix of the entire album on closer “Rhinoceros” where Gamble goes from static synths and vocals, to ambient synths and vocals before closing on frantic synths and some cleverly layered harmonies.

Overall Ethan Gamble‘s Roy is a strong debut, especially considering it’s a bedroom recording. There’s a clear star in the making with his mix of pop sensibilities and experimental curiosity, to really allow him to bridge the gaps between art and popular music in a way few can. Needless to say, Gamble is only a few steps away from stumbling on a hit in the near future.

Owen Maxwell