1 Shapeshifter 10:04
2 Brainspawn 9:27
3 Lifted 5:57
4 Drifting 8:14
5 The Return 9:34
6 Knowhere 6:19
7 Shapeshifter Revealed 8:17
SynGate CD-R JG01 (CD/DDL 57:52) ****
(New Berlin School with a mix of ambient rock and EDM)
If you are familiar with the universe of EM, the name of Venja should ring a bell in your souvenirs. And with good reason, because some of his albums were released on the prestigious label Innovative Communication in the middle of the 90's. Diversified, the music of this Belgian artist could very well make us dance than make us float in the space. After an absence of about 15 years, Venja made a return in 2013 with Zen Mode, an album of which the some extracts on You Tube show that if the sonic envelope got modernized the approach of Johan Geens always remains so diversified. “Shapeshifter”, and its very beautiful artwork, marks another comeback because the music of Venja is now distributed by another prestigious German label; SynGate. A label which always puts us ears in appetite.
The title-track begins with electronic noises of which the distortion draws rippling resounding lines. First agreements are tolling in this shroud of bizarre reverberations. They dance on the tip of their tones, tickling a bass line which hums discreetly the first line of harmony of "Shapeshifter". The atmospheres are hyper serene and our senses are already crazy about this tone which merges marvellously the contemporary and the vintage of the 90's. Adopting the curve of this bass line, the synth is whistling for a melody as much mesmerizing as spectral, while the delicate arpeggios of the introduction began dancing more freely. Like an allegorical carousel, and its ballerina which gets loose from it to charm us with an astral dance, these arpeggios spin stealthily and its furtive and uncertain approach goes hand in hand with the delicate impulses of bass and these snores of synth which weave a mood a bit mysterious, if not dramatic. The ambiences of "Shapeshifter" totally blew me the senses, even if weaved in ambient envelope. You have here in these 10 first minutes of “Shapeshifter” the principal elements that will lead to the spacey harmonies of the other 6 tracks. The peculiarity of the music of Venja is the total absence of electronic percussions and of beat boxes. The rhythms are transported by the impulses of the electronic effects and/or the movements of sequences been born from the uncertainty of a keyboard. In fact, Venja has the reputation to build his own equipments, from where this unique sound which goes out from his compositions. "Brainspawn" continues the story of charms with a very ethereal approach which little by little is transformed into a superb morphic down-tempo. The introduction feeds on pulsations of a bass line which widens waves so sensual as mystic. Elytrons of metal click with discretion and these arpeggios, shaped in the tones of glass from the MIDI years, spread their tone with parsimony. Little by little, this envelope of atmospheres is transformed into a soft rhythm where our senses dance with the stars. The arrangements, these astral violins, are very beautiful and let loose a soft mist of ether. A line of ghostly harmony seems to roam all around the structures of “Shapeshifter”. Transforming a little its air, it insinuates itself with different clothes. As in "Lifted" where we recognize it hardly in a very electro-cosmic structure of the Software years. The title wins in power along with its minutes to reach a good up-tempo, not really energetic but rather cosmic, around the 3rd minute. The synthesized melody congeals easily a musical itch, and let's say that our feet can follow with no problem the tom-toms of our fingers and the rollings of our neck. Rhythm without percussions! The Software years! Written for the Space Opera Concert at the Cosmodrome of Genk in February 2014, "Drifting" is soaked of it. It's a good ambient track where the echo of the arpeggios clinks in beautiful effects of cosmic violins. Their slow morphic momentums and the tearful synth multi layers really give this sensation to derive in the space. "The Return" is by far the most lively title of “Shapeshifter”. Venja gathers all the elements of charms, among which this synth whistler of spectral harmonies, these impulses of rhythm from the bass lines and these cosmic elements in a structure which is not really far from EDM. The melody is also intrusive as that of "Lifted". I would say that both are rather close. That should please to fans of Jarre, Schroeder and Software. "Knowhere" proposes another ambient structure with a keyboard which sculptures pensive chords in a futuristic vision which can remind a more contemporary Blade Runner. "Shapeshifter Revealed" ends this first rendezvous of Venja with SynGate with a structure very similar to the title-track, but in a very beautiful envelope of down-tempo. It's as much good! Less ambient and a bit danceable and the melody hangs here with the same charms. And this sound, these dramatic effects that Venja squeezes out aptly from the modulations of his structures of bass add a very particular cachet to a music which seduced me from the first listening. A beautiful album and a beautiful surprise, as it's often the case with SynGate!
Sylvain Lupari (July 14th, 2016)
You will find this album on the SynGate Bandcamp page here