Album Review: M.A.C.O by Ryan Yard
Following up his very pleasing neo-classical album Chasing Time (see review here), Ryan has returned to his synth roots following inspiration from Jean Michel Jarre and Mike Oldfield. On his M.A.C.O website, Ryan informs us that “The principal aim for this album was to return to my early way of working that was free from conventional notation and preparation of parts for session musicians, which has dominated my life ever since my composition degree. I also wanted to have fun and to write something just for myself and with no pressure to fit a certain requirement. I have certainly had a lot of fun writing this album but I had little idea as to how big this project would turn out. While it is electronic in nature and similar in places to my early albums, there is a symphonic grandeur and epic cinematic quality that I could not contain. As such, I feel that I have perfectly married the past with the present to create an album that tells a story and evokes many emotions. This album is part sci-fi and part love story and it is my hope that you will enjoy the experience and journey.“
What’s very impressive is that the album was created just using an iPad! Ryan states “The entire album was written using an iPad. Below is a list of the software I used. I did not use any loops and made all of the beats and sequences from scratch. I used a variety of samples created from household appliances and manipulated in Samplr. Most of the album was played live by hand with only a small amount of MIDI editing. This was to stay faithful to the way I worked when I was 14 and to give a more ‘human’ element to the album.“
Ryan used: Korg Gadget, Sunrizer, Audioshare, Soundscaper, Synthmaster Player, Samplr, Magellan, Mitosynth, Nave, Korg Module, Geoshred, Arturia iSEM, iSymphonic, CMP Grand Piano, Jordantron, Oriental Strings, Fugue Machine & Final Touch.
Composer / Performer: Ryan Yard
Narration: Jem Roberts
Guitar solos: Justin Towell
Female voice: Katherine Snell
For me, this concept album reminds me of many hours listening to great narratives like Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds and listening to Mike Oldfield, Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. Here’s my (spoiler free) track by track review / analysis.
An epic electronic concept album telling the story of a scientist who puts himself in the position of testing living conditions on Mars in readiness to fully colonise the red planet. As the story progresses we learn about his wife Lydia and the strong bond they share and as his physical, emotional and mental wellbeing slowly collapses we begin to wonder what this mission was really all about. Follow his journey as he uncovers the secrets of M.A.C.O.
*Listen with headphones for an immersive experience!*
1. Prologue 2.54
A bleak audio soundscape supports the introductory narration with our hero informing us of his forthcoming journey to Mars. Although purposely not Richard Burton-esque, Jem Roberts’ portrayal is engaging, especially as the drama unfolds.
2. Goodbye Mother Earth 4.51
Technological beeps and rhythmic pulses introduce a simple but toe tapping heartbeat groove. The track has an inevitable quality about it with a synth & piano melody and descending harmonic progression. A few stars whizz by as the hero is transported (in suspended animation we assume) to Mars. Think “Interstellar”! A roaring guitar solo adds a powerful emotional line over the groove. Pleasing synth solo strings add a mournful quality to this track.
3. Memory Space 1.36
Narration; No one would have believed that… Some nice sound design and time-stretching here with effective panning to keep the sounds alive and immersive.
4. Mars Runner 6.38
This track kicks in just when you want it too and is very engaging, visual and fun. Since “The Martian” was released, we’ve had many visuals which might help to picture this album. We’re back in C minor which might be a home key on Mars and some of these tracks get a little stuck in orbit but this fanfare melody keeps the interest thanks to relative middle sections and a good bridge.
5. Marrakech 8.02
Hammered dulcimer takes a new theme as the hero reminisces over meeting his wife Lydia. This has a great bass riff but again in C minor – which in one way helps it link as a whole to the preview track but also tries to escape elsewhere. The eastern feel to the scales give new direction and draws you in. The great ending will always remind me of Tubular Bells III themes but that’s not a bad thing! #FarAboveTheClouds
6. Close Your Eyes 3.50
Sirens lead to Day 21. This almost jazzy track (in A minor) has a lot of feel to it, relaxed with half time groove and high piano solo and it’s a welcome break from the synth grooves. My only suggestion for this is that the drums need a little more swing groove to match the piano solo. It’s at odds but perhaps that’s on purpose. Again, a great solo guitar part by Justin Towell compliments the track. This is completed by a powerful soaring synth lead coda. A powerful ending!
7. Lydia 2.55
A moment of solace: Memories of their wedding see a harmonically distorted church choir with radio interference. William Orbit pads give a deep emotional layer and a nice contrast to the pumping rhythms with an impressive cello solo (for an iPad!)
8. Assimilate 6.53
A track of two halves: Like Bear McCreary’s Europa Report soundtrack, which mixes music and sound design to good effect, the texture of organ chords, piano solo, Mellotron flutes, Bom choirs, synth bass, orchestrations and a building rhythm add up to another great listening experience. The second section is darker with twisting melodies, a good groove and crunching guitars. Much is done here in 7 mins and I think this is one of my favourites, for its variety.
9. Intermezzo 0.40
A brief piano solo, reminiscent of the Mars Runner theme, takes us into Act Two:
10. Heart of Mars 6.05
FM synthesis, organs and strings conjures the Heart of Mars. Another collection of synth leads gives us a Jean Michel Jarre feel and toe tapping rhythms.
11. Red Mist 4.05
Filtered memories of piano solos are suitably dark as the hero faces lonely imprisonment on the Red Planet. Impressive sound design indicates the hero’s mood and health. Subtle but dark.
12. Voices 2.10
As things start to disintegrate, sound manipulation takes over, with dissonant string pads and a dark realisation.
13. Ant 1.40
This track would work well in a horror movie – unnerving and relentless. Piano solos tend to do that! Simple panning breathes life into the bass pad.
14. Final Breath 3.37
An emotional ending.
15. Epilogue 2.19
Another inevitable mood is created by dark minor progressions, pads and good sound design. An emotional ending is enhanced by combining elements from several previous tracks.
I believe there were several endings to this album and I was so hoping for a hidden track after a few minutes of silence – but it was not to be!
Find out what happens by buying the album.
Rating 8/10 – A great listening experience that grows on you after the first listen as you’ll want to revisit it!