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the ghost of each room
cEvin Key
The Ghost of Each Room
Metropolis

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I cannot say it any more plainly: this album is the best thing cEvin Key has done since Skinny Puppy's swan song, The Process. As that band lurched towards its grave, Key's output increased considerably; he had projects on his own (Download), as well as collaborations like Doubting Thomas (with the dearly missed Dwayne Goettel). I found the majority of these releases interesting, but not revelatory. The classic Puppy noise sculptures were there, but they lacked the emotional heft of classics like Mind: The Perpetual Intercourse. Thus, when this disc appeared in my mailbox, I was pleased but not overly excited.

With The Ghost of Each Room, however, Key has regained my faith. Over the course of ten tracks, Key displays the genius responsible for his best and most classic work. From the opening theremin to the strangled gurgle that closes the album, the songs are filled with life and energy. True, Key's trademark darkness still suffuses the music, but the complexity and passion he puts into his compositions is worlds beyond the mechanical sound of the Download recordings. The opening track, "bOb's Shadow", layers synthesizers, drums, guitar and theremin to create a haunting scene. Note that my use of the word haunting is intentional -- this cut contains the otherworldly class of a Victorian ghost story, not a B-movie splatter fest. This intellectual approach to Key's standard themes is reflected throughout the album, and explains why Key's work still stands out from his contemporaries' output.

Another improvement over past efforts is evidenced by Key's drum programming. While he has always been inventive, the thoughtful rhythm in "TAtayama", which includes a wicked saxophone line by K. Tokoi, is enthralling. By infusing his patterns with fills and fantastic pan effects, he creates an amusement park for headphone-users.

The track bound to garner the most attention is "Frozen Sky" which finds Key once again in the studio with Ogre. While this track is very good, its use of guitars and pacing makes it feel like a lost track from the The Process recording sessions. True, the song easily buries most of the material from Ogre's recent Welt, but it doesn't show how much Key has grown in the past five years. Instead, this maturity is displayed on numbers like "a certain stuuckey", which recalls the more experimental portions of David Bowie's Outside through its use of disembodied vocals, skittering rhythms and ambient noise. "15th Shade" reflects a similar style and, with its bass line and upbeat rhythm, is damn near funky. My personal favorite is "hOroPter", a relaxed, rolling number that reflects the influence of the Orb. All of the trademark Key elements are there -- vocal snippets, string pads, and complex programming -- but they are used in such a fresh manner that one would be hard pressed to guess that they came from Key.

While Key has always been a man ahead of his time, on this album he sounds fresh and reinvigorated. Like the old man showing the kids how it's done, on The Ghost of Each Room Key teaches the new generation of electronic artists a powerful, and extremely engaging, lesson.

-- Ron Davies
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