If you're smart enough to keep tabs on synthesist Joseph Raglani's recorded output, it's easy to forget that his newest, Real Colors of the Physical World, is the first proper followup to his 2008 Kranky release, Of Sirens Born. That was the album that, by dint of its own appreciable arc and through the help of a beloved indie label, put him on a lot of peoples' radar. Since then, he's released splits (with Outer Space), crafted a bucolic side project with Mike Pollard (Bryter Layter), invented a Krautrock alter-ego (Temporal Marauder) and unfurled a beautiful, much-anticipated double-LP of strays and ephemera (this year's Husk). How well you can keep those strands straight -- or how often you get lost in Raglani's many projects -- may color how you hear this collection. On the new album, his sequences and synthesizer programming is as vivid and uptempo as it has ever been. As always, Raglani trades in patience and payoff, but he seems more interested in hitting the dopamine centers of your brain this time around.
As if in attempt to marry the split sides of his musical personality -- the noise experimentalist and the secret pop-song lover -- Raglani has sequenced Real Colors in extremes. Two twenty-plus minute tracks are paired with two five-minutes songs. The vinyl packaging underlines this point: There's one twelve-inch LP and one seven-inch single. Listeners are presented with a choice: Take the plunge, or just get a taste (or do both, as is intended). His use of ambient texture feels more organic this time around; roomlike reverb gives warmth to even the harshest passages in "Fog of Interruption" and provides a tether for the multiform, twenty-minute piece. Deciding where these movements stop and start is both a matter of subjectivity and an exercise in futility; letting these sides spin out on vinyl (the best option for this collection) suggests both a smartly sequenced song and a series of vignettes.
On the flip side, squelchy Moog bass gives a groove to the middle passage of "Terrain of Antiquity," with disembodied and haunting vocals beckoning like a long-ago transmission. Like so much of this album, though, it's a passing fancy. For better or for worse, these songs never keep their feet planted in one spot but seek some other linear plane of existence. For this track, the trajectory is skyward, as even the buzziest of bleeps morph into thick, glossy synth pads that sound like the creaking of heaven's gate. If the side-length pieces present a fleeting rainbow of possibilities, the more brief passages do the opposite. "The Exploded View" and "Trampoline Dream" each take an arpeggiated sequence and let the slow attack of warm strings underpin the repetitions and the groove-worthy beat (such as it is). Those quick hits -- the "radio edits" of the synth-scape world, I suppose -- make digging back into the long-player that much more rewarding, where 8-bit arcade transgressions turn into lurching Germanic waltzes and back again.
Listen to "The Exploded View," from the album, below.