On the one hand, the “dreamwave” genre, as typified by the likes of Perturbator, Infinity Shred, et al., is rather gloomy and dystopic à la Blade Runner, and on the other hand, often possesses a kitschy, tongue-in-cheek approach to electronic music nostalgia. And then there’s Mild Peril’s Matter, which tips the scales firmly towards the latter. I mean, just look at the album artwork (which features a castle spire floating in space surrounded by heavy metal lightning) or the song titles (e.g., “Paladin’s Theme,” “Excalibur”).
Another hallmark of dreamwave: it has a very cinematic feel to it, as if you’re listening to soundtracks for long-lost cult sci-fi and horror movies from a parallel dimension version of the early ’80s. Matter is no different, but instead of some Ridley Scott-esque cyberpunk epic, imagine a sci-fi/fantasy amalgam featuring feather-haired space knights soaring through the cosmos on metallic steeds, wielding blades of cyber-mithril and saving maidens from evil nebula dragons.
Yes, it’s a wee bit corny in places — and yet it’s a conceit that Chris Gilbert buys into wholeheartedly. As he puts it, “I imagined a kind of intergalactic mythology that would be as relevant today as it was a thousand years ago.” And because he buys into it, certainly as much as Perturbator buys into the “one-man war against a satanic computer system” theme on his most recent LP, Matter just works. You either find yourself just giving up and going along with it (much to the glee of your inner 7th grader who liked to sketch space combat scenes on his Trapper Keeper) — or you realize you’re never going to “get” it and you listen to something else.
If Matter has one real weakness, it could’ve used some judicious editing. With an average song length of nine minutes or so, Gilbert certainly gives his synth arpeggios, keytar solos, etc. plenty of time to develop and spread their wings. But it also means that songs meander: the synth textures and patches all sound lovely enough in the background, but can become repetitive under active listening. But I will say that I knew this album was for me on the very first track, “Paladin’s Theme,” which is stuffed to the gills with that most ’80s of synth effects: the orchestra hit. (Oh, and some pan flutes and horse sounds for added panache.)
Few sound effects are so obviously a product of their time and place, and few are as beloved as they are cheesy. Even with its conceits, flaws, and limitations, Matter creates a similar response in this child of the ’80s.