Recording under the Ogre moniker, Robin Ogden has been composing evocative synth-heavy soundtracks for games, movies, and literature since at least 2012, and doing so at a feverish pace. (His Bandcamp page alone lists nearly 20 releases.) But his latest release, a score for Frank White IV’s short film about forbidden psychic experiments and multinational corporations (watch the teaser), might be one of Ogden’s subtlest, most ambitious, and most diverse works to date. It’s almost certainly his most otherworldly.
A good deal of Ogre’s output consists of ominous, aggressive synthwave (e.g., the Megacopter soundtrack, Ballard). Which isn’t a bad thing. Like Makeup and Vanity Set, Ogden knows how create driving soundscapes that sound retro (via shades of Vangelis, John Carpenter, and Tangerine Dream) without ever sounding like a shameless retread or pointless exercise in nostalgia.
But for most of its length, The Chairman eschews Vangelis-inspired synth arpeggios and instead, opts for something much more ambient, haunting, and unsettling. Much of The Chairman is built from blurred washes of ambience that bring with them a growing sense of unease and dread (a good example of this is the aptly titled “Littoral Ghosts”). In other words, it’s the perfect music to soundtrack shady tamperings with the unknown regions of the human mind.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of beauty to be heard, as well. The final moments of “She’s Definitely Receiving, Now Send Her A Signal” are quite stirring (especially compared to the song’s first half, which contains some of the album’s most harrowing sonics). Elsewhere, “Hypolimnion” and “The Stone Hears Whispers, Just Like Katie” push back against the darkness with a pensiveness that’s all the more poignant for the songs’ brevity.
And if that weren’t enough, Ogden also includes some Ghost Box-esque hauntology (“Pantheon Ident: Bringing You The Future, Faster” wouldn’t sound out of place on an Advisory Circle album) and a few excursions into vaporwave-ish territory (“Red Sunset Cigarettes: A Pantheon Brand,” “Joy Ascending (Diegetic Elevator)”) that tweak and temper his ominous synths with woozy sax arrangements. There’s even a bouncy little synth-pop number (“Memento Morial: Coming Soon From Pantheon (Diegetic)”) whose infectious cheesiness only highlights and heightens the album’s all-pervasive eeriness.
With the rise of Stranger Things, synth-y soundtracks are all the rage, and The Chairman will no doubt receive many comparisons to the Netflix series’ soundtrack — comparisons that aren’t entirely unwarranted. But by going deeper, darker, and more diverse in tone and timbre, Ogre’s The Chairman conjures up a creepy-yet-captivating sonic space that’s entirely its own.