A great listen for March is the debut solo release from Manchester-based artist Richard Evans. On his album, ‘Sentinel’, he says: “It is an electro-pop concept album. It’s important that art has something to say about the world we live in and there is no bigger issue than climate change. The album is my take on the different facets of the subject – from the impact of micro-plastics to the paranoia of COVID, all in a pop package.” The project was recorded during various COVID lockdowns and developed from his acclaimed multimedia 60-minute live show. It has been performed at festivals across the country including Manchester Science Festival, Art Futura in London, EnableUS in Sheffield, and Light Night Leeds.
It will have massive appeal to those who love electro-pop and 80’s synth music. Using a Roland System 8 and a Korg Wavestate, Richard Evans achieves a well-crafted futuristic sound, its roots planted firmly in German techno but transporting us to the present. His synthpop / vocoder-based creations paired with his mellow timbre, explore modern-day problems.
Even though his voice has a remarkable similarity to Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, Sentinel, a true concept album, demonstrates clearer parallels to the work of Canadian duo Rational Youth, Kraftwerk, New Order, and Jean-Michel Jarre. There are 8 vocoder-loaded tracks on the album. Having listened to it non-stop all morning, I’m taken back to the New Wave sound of the ’70s and ’80s, and everything that was great about the music back then. And then I’m transported at warp speed back to the present with the sound of modern synth pads. The opening track “Made Of Stars” seems to suggest that our substance of life comes from space and that in fact we are made of stars. The lyrics are simple, vocoder vocals and sequenced synths create a very easy to listen to opener and sets the scene for what’s to come.
“Brave New World” describes a chilling world not too dissimilar to Aldous Huxley’s novel, where children are created outside the womb and cloned in order to increase the population. Although we are living through different technology to Huxley’s time, we are now using CRISPR to edit genomes, alter DNA sequences and modify gene functions. To accompany this dystopian vision Evans creates a layered sound of haunting synths and a perfect drum accompaniment. Every now and then I swear I could hear some Duran Duran-inspired choruses. And why not, their name was inspired by a science fiction movie after all!
The stripped-back and uncomplicated track “2084” tackles the global issue of climate change. ‘2084’, is also the title of a book by John Lennox: ‘2084 Artificial Intelligence, The Future Of Humanity And The God Question’. Covid has now been with us for over 2 years now and in “Trick Machine” Evans looks at the idea of how we are now living through what’s been called the ‘anthropause’. The chance to examine the impact of our own absence. During lockdowns, we all experienced the great ‘human pause’, and wildlife scientists are now examining what this has meant to our environment and to us as humans. The clean sound and danceability of this track would not be out of place in a nightclub or a late-night bar, a lovely chilled-out piece of music. Similarly, the next track, “The Last Of Us”, projects a strong electro beat and is coupled with some short and to-the-point lyrics. “5,4,3,2,1,0 – Feel the new vibration, Feel the new vibration, Feel the new vibration. Are we the last of us?”
His single “Black Rain”, released January 2022, is about the atmospheric nuclear tests that were carried out in the ’50s and ’60s and the impact on today’s climate change issues. ‘On the streets of Hiroshima, Little Boy falls, still wants to play…On the shores of Fukushima, Little Boy smiles, still wants to play.’ Evans shows us here that nuclear disasters, intentional or otherwise, continue to take place and nothing happens, we don’t learn. OMD tackled the same issues when they wrote about “Enola Gay” (the aircraft that carried the nuclear bomb, Little Boy, killing more than 100,000 civilians in Hiroshima). Their version was a very 80’s dance song, this one is more sombre, perhaps a bit more fitting. “All Fall Down”, looks at Evan’s view of COVID paranoia. He sings about masks, visors, isolation, etc, but I think more interestingly, are his references to the FSB (the Russian Federal Security Service) and CDC (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) ‘watching us’. It would suggest a much more sinister agenda from both superpowers, which aligns with some of the Covid conspiracy theories out there. The track hosts Evans’ melodic vocal timbre and is tastefully accompanied by infectious downbeat keyboards and drums. Jean-Michel Jarre clearly influencing this particular track. This masterpiece of an album/project/social comment closes with the track “Constellation”. Is Evans predicting the impending doom of the planet? Or is it more a plea for hope? ‘Kassandra’s plight, Her sacrifice’ is not a reference to the video game Assassin’s Creed but to a Trojan priestess of Apollo in Greek mythology. In modern usage, we use it to indicate someone whose accurate prophecies are not believed.
Richard Evans’ ‘Sentinel’ is a well-crafted piece of music. It’s sometimes has a chillout feel and sometimes a dance feel, but first and foremost it’s a social commentary on many issues facing us today. Enjoy listening to it and even better, get to one of his performances where he brings this to life…a powerful audio-visual experience. The album fell to earth on the 25th of February, courtesy of Cold Star Media, and is available through the usual streaming channels. There is also a limited vinyl edition, 180gsm on white vinyl is available to order exclusively through Digger’s Factory. Just 300 copies are available. The vinyl edition is scheduled to ship in April 2022. Watch Richard Evans perform Sentinel live on, the 11th of March at the Arts, The Old Fire Station, Oxford.
Written by Juan Brooks.
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