Synthetic Block CD Reviews

This review is from Matt Howarthís Sonic Curiosity site:

Synthetic Block is Jonathan Block. His style of electronic music involves dense melodies with slight percussive propulsion. For 68 minutes, Block takes the listener on a sonic journey into realms of synthetic sounds dedicated to sinuous tuneage.

Keyboard threads wind with evolving riffs amid a cloud of counterparting tones. These clouds contain a hint of rhythmic presence, languid E-perc patterns that chitter at the edges of the melody. The heart of this music is the electronics though.

Block mixes ambient tonalities with lively synthesizers, producing a strongly dramatic impression with his serpentine compositions. His blend of harsh and soft electronics generates a lush soundscape that plays to every emotional extreme.

These compositions are quite refined, employing solid melodies that are rich with lavish appeal. Unhurried, but hardly longwinded, this music has a dynamic quotient that has a tendency to creep up from behind to snare the listener with its building intensity.

Here's a review by Bert Strolenberg that appears in a recent KLEM issue:

What we've got here is an interesting debut-CD that shouldnít be missed by any serious listener of progressive electronic ambient music produced today. American musician Jonathan Block (who seems to have produced several cassettes before this CD came out) is the inventive guy behind the 68 minutes of intruiging music presented here. Jonathan has discovered a special way of composing, in which heís found a nice balance between space music, intimate ambient soundtextures, elements taken from minimal music, and a small bit out of the famous Berliner School of the 1970s. Synthetic Blockís overall sound is quite complex, it often built in a very slow pace, and offers some adventurous sequences that tickle the ear next to great spacious soundscapes and tabla-kindred percussion. In that way, the opening track "Silver Sky" and "The Empire of Lights" (at over 19 minutes) are the most impressive takes on the album.

All in all Synthetic Block is a thorough effort for those hunting for something exciting in the ambient-genre. The album is very well-produced & offers brilliant sound quality.

The following review appears in the latest issue of Expose, and was written by Mike Ohman:

Synthetic Block is not a group, but a cleverly-monikered front name for one-man Connecticut synth battalion Jonathan Block. And quite frankly, this is one of the most exciting one-man homemade projects I've come across in a long time. Block uses lessons learned from seventies electronic pioneers and applies them using latter-day technology. And he succeeds gloriously. Much of the disc consists of pulsing, bubbling, slowly shifting synth pieces that mainly remind of Tangerine Dream circa Stratosfear. But there are also dark, droning, sequencer-hammering moments that bring Heldon to mind. Plus odd-meter workouts that bring to mind no one in particular but Block himself. Not only are his compositions good, but the sounds he produces from his synthesizers are rich, organic and fresh, and they are entirely appropriate to the style of music; suggestive of analog synths without being imitative of them. Drum machines are used judiciously. A more than admirable first effort.

The following review appears in the latest issue of Wind and Wire, and was written by David Hassell:

I feel like the guy in the Kellogg's Corn Flakes commercial. "It's simple, but tasty. It doesnít have any nuts or fruit or sugar. Itís just flakes. What's it called?"

Synthetic Block's self-titled album is simple and unassuming, but it's very good. It isn't quite ambient, techno, or German synth; but it seems as if it takes elements from those genres and combines them into its own unique mixture. Thinking of something familiar to compare it to, the closest "landmark" I could come up with is early 1980s Robert Schroeder. One minute I'll hear something that reminds me of Tangerine Dream's {Phaedra}, then it will shift into something that reminds me of Brian Eno's {The Drop}. Don't think the music is haphazard or disorganized. Everything develops in its own logical pattern, and nothing seems out of place. This album is a masterpiece of understatement and self discipline.

There are five compositions ranging from 9:25 up to 19:47 in duration, giving each piece plenty of time for development. "Silver Sky," which begins the CD, reminds me somewhat of Optical Image's Treasure Point. "Eardrum" seems uncertain in its progression, but has an interesting effect of sounding as if itís about to conclude before introducing something else. "Plangent Bleating" is the track that reminds me the most of Robert Schroeder, and it's my personal favorite. "The Empire of Lights" begins with the second-half {Phaedra} style I mentioned previously, merges effortlessly into a lovely rhythm and blues bass guitar and soft piano duet that brings to mind {The Drop}, then develops into something that would be at home on a Pete Namlook album. Finally, "Ping" wraps everything with a techno ending. Synthetic Blockís debut is a terrific electronic chameleon with no jarring edges. I think both electronic music fans and techno fans will enjoy this.

This review appeared in the latest issue of Sequences magazine, and was written by Mick Garlick:

My first encounter with Synthetic Block was a track on the Gold Tri Volume One compilation disc and did give you an insight into the music of this artist. This is a fine album from one Jonathan Block (Synthetic Block) from the USA, which I'm glad to say has steered clear of the retro scene which is so dominant at the present time. The music has a hypnotic quality with an air of complexity about it, quite engrossing.

Five segments of music on the album all show an atmospheric ambience. "Silver Sky" opens with choral voices low in the mix and an infectious repetative sequence, pulsating over and over, a journey to infinity. Similar in feel is "Eardrum," which goes through many changes of spatial and ambient fields that swell in universal harmony, although "Plangent Bleating" contains those infectious synth sounds with percussion taking control toward the end giving a glorious finish to the track. In contrast, "The Empire of Lights" is a more laid back affair, an ice cool jazzy piece of peaceful serenity, displaying a romantic mood; this is sheer bliss. Finally, "Ping" restores the setting to the nearest you'll get to retro and is quite a surprise from the rest with its techno/chill-out style sequencing, and leaves you feeling quite exhausted.

I have no hesitation recommending this album, itís certainly not the usual sound we expect coming from the States, but itís fresh approach to electronics which is most welcome. For me the stand out tracks were "Silver Sky" and "The Empire of Lights," the latter especially hitting the mark..

Here's a review that appears in Compact Disc Services catalog:

Just five tracks over 68 minutes, and this is the one out of the five releases featured on Mindspore that will delight the cockles of the hearts of most traditional synth music fans with its mix of space music, melodic synth leads, giant synth backdrops, deep bass backdrops, and dynamic, solid percussion/synth/sequencer rhythms, all structured and played to give the feel of 70s Schulze, only with a more up-to-date production thatís crisp and fresh, full of ideas and flows beautifully. The opening 11-minute track is typical of all that, and then track 2 opens with another 11 minutes of cosmic synth music before chugging rhythms enter and then the synth surrounds appear, a lead melody of starker quality than youíd imagine then turns up and the ethereal piece continues like this for only a minute or so with some strong rhythms that are more stretched out and phased than your average sequencer stuff, together with solid percussive backdrops, great synth effects and an uprising synth melody line, all of which combine to form a great track with a very different, yet accessible set of sounds and textures than come from most examples of the genre. Track 4 is a massive 19-minute slice of mellow, relaxed, melodic, spacey multisynth music that unfolds slowly to exquisite effect on a piece that is celestial and quite ethereal. Finally, track 5 ends the album in louder fashion with some solid synth/sequencer rhythms and layered synth melody lines forming an energetic piece that is synth and yet one step away from trance, but the melody lines override the rhythms, keeping it firmly off the dance trail. An excellent synth album thatís a bit different from the normal sort of stuff , yet familiar enough to tempt you in.

Hereís a review that appears at the AmbiEntrance site, which reviews electronic and ambient releases:

The descriptor "chilled-out electronics" seems a cliched way to say it, but itís just so accurate that I must...

Synthetic Blockís self-titled release on Mindspore features some of the more chilled-out electronics Iíve heard in some time! The tracks are lengthy (from 9.5 to 19.75 min.) and the chill factor is high in that the synthesized sounds tend to have a distinctly glistening, crystalline quality.

Working his own name into his projectís title, Jonathan Block is Synthetic Block. Heís definitely well-acquainted with the Synthetic via the icy, synthesized electronics that grace this release. A plucky string effect softly dominates the Silver Sky which morphs into a rolling sequencer piece, accentuated by sparingly applied, muted drumbeats.

Eardrum is an extremely quiet piece based on endlessly cycling, mutating organ chords. More than 10 minutes into the piece, percussion and bass notes are added, temporarily beefing up the fragile track, before it shifts into another beatless, string-enhanced phase. Plangent Bleating opens to denser, slightly warmer, waves of synth. Bell-like tones, a keyboard rhythm and slight, but active, beats add an extra bit of drive to this track. These elements evolve interestingly, gaining in intensity, though always maintaining a cool, subdued level.

An electronic string section leads us on a 19:46-long journey, to The Empire of Lights. Propelled by lightly tapping cymbals, rich chords and a subtle, though groovy, bassline, this venture traverses various terrains, including thickly sequenced sections and sparse, arid zones as well. The "short" track at 9:25, Ping coalesces from icy vapors into something a bit more lively than its predecessors. Block turns up the drum machine to Peppy (though never Pounding). The comparatively frenetic percussion playfully bounce the lighter synthtones around.

While not earth-shattering, Synthetic Block is quite good, staying true to its ambient/electronic course. Percussion-phobes shouldnít be too put out by the slight beat content. Definitely One Thumb Up for these (yes, Iíll say it again) chilled-out electronics.

Here's a review that appeared on the Eclectic Earwig Review:

This guy's got the Sound, all right, that sequencer-driven, '70s Euro-sound that has been so successful for so many years. It still sounds good in the new millennium, even with a kind of retro synthesizer quality, imitating guitars and percussion and organs just like we used to try to do on the old Mini-Moog. He's got the modal harmonies and earnestly minor keys that the old ë70s Euro-rockmeisters used, too. So why am I not overly excited by this album?

I tried to sustain an interest in it, but it just got too repetitive. Yes, ambient is supposed to be repetitive and trance-like, but there is interesting trance and dull trance. The problem with Synthetic Block, for me, is that despite changes in rhythm or arrangement, Block uses the same key and chord sequence throughout a piece, and never changes it. He intensifies his rhythms, he builds up layers, but it is harmonically and structurally uninventive. Somehow, other artists get away with this more successfully, and Iím not sure why perhaps they choose more unusual setups to begin with, rather than rather standard rock layouts. The last track, Ping, is for me the best of the lot. It updates the old sound into a zippy techno beat, and there are a few boinky special effects to liven things up. Though itís still repetitive, at least this is something you can dance to. The rest of the album, in my opinion, needs a bit of electronic caffeine.

HMGS rating: 5 out of 10
Hannah M.G. Shapero 6/19/01

Here's a description from Eurock's catalog:

This album creates a very special musical environment by mixing long flowing soundscapes with strong melodic undercurrents. The resulting musical hybrid gives the overall sound a mysterious musical mixture of yin and yang. At times the electronics are dark and heavy, but also magically uplifting due to the warmth that underlies the undulating synthetic mass. Exotic spatial effects add further sonic spice to this classic journey into the creative realms of space electronics.

Here's a review from Synth Music Direct's catalog, written by Dave Law:

The first track is "Silver Sky." A haunting, mesmerising, repeated refrain provides a framework for a pleasant melody which swirls around for a few minutes before a no nonsense bass drum (not of the dance variety) takes us to the close. "Eardrum" floats along for about four minutes then a strong sequence fights its way to the surface, fades again and is replaced by a superb church organ passage. Those who read my review of "Sakrale Tone" by Keller & Schonwalder will know how much I like this sound. Another slower sequence joins in at the half way mark and the track constantly evolves. Interest is retained at all times. It is all change again at ten minutes as an infectious rhythm is brought in. Things really do start to move and if I was driving my car I am sure I would be going far too fast by this point. "Plangent Bleating" starts off in deep space before complex rhythms set in a real groove. "The Empire of Lights" is a long track at almost twenty minutes. It starts off simply then very slowly develops around what sounds like a straight forward rhythmic structure but on closer listening is really rather complex, mutating all the time. Just after the half way mark the pace starts to quicken but if anything I preferred the laid back beginning. A really nice track but after about fifteen minutes I had had enough. The final track "Ping" is a great sequencer based romp with a very heavy take no prisoners rhythm. It should provide your bass speakers with a good test. The lead line that came in at about the four minute mark is also a cracker. This album has certainly been a grower for me and each time I listen to it I get more out of it. This is always the sign of an album that will last the test of time rather than providing instant gratification and then terminal boredom.