Escape Velocity Reviews

Here's a review from Stars End by Chuck van Zyl:

Escape Velocity (63'26") by Synthetic Block presents six tracks of Prog-Rock influenced Spacemusic. While this album's plot is familiar, the execution is lively, detailed and clever. Lyrical synth lines recall a time when Contemporary Electronic Music was pre-occupied with melody rather than texture and performers strove for a clean sound and hands-on control. The arrangements on Escape Velocity are linear and elaborate enough to continually engage the listener (without all the bluster of Block's explicit influences). However, with classic Mellotron sounds, manipulated acoustic samples, pulsing electronic percussion and vintage synthesizer voicings, the instrumentation becomes quite luxurious. The overall effect is a spacious elegance in which Block confidently produces a gravity defying mixture of cosmic pastorale and post-Art Rock electronics.

Here's a review from Bill Binkelman of Wind and Wire:

Jonathan (a.k.a. Synthetic) Block's Escape Velocity, another entry in the emergence of "retro/homages" to EM's early days, is (for my money) the best of the lot so far. Block spins out four short, one medium, and one long track, all of them yielding many bliss-filled synthesizer/keyboard moments. Wasting no time whatsoever, the title track kicks things off with a midtempo rhythmic excursion featuring all kinds of whiz-bang laser effects, mellow ebbing/flowing washes, pinging-ponging notes and beats, and some wonderful Synergy-like analogue keyboards, all of it in a whirlpool-ish swirling motion. Alright! Now, that's an opening track, folks!

"The Farthest Rille" is a somber melancholic affair, bed-rocked by a steady slow tempo, with mellotron flutes floating over pulsing hypnotic synth beats and other retro keyboards doing assorted accompaniment duties. "InTo" slows things down even further, with a sedate synth bass rhythm rising and falling -- up then down, up then down -- while lush analogue keys caress the foreground with a forlorn melody. A haunting solo flute line flits above it all. Later, the lead is dominated by another trip on the way-back machine to mellotron land again.

The magnum opus of the album is the nearly 27-minute long "Orbits." As I have written many times before, reviewing a long piece of music is frustrating because to detail what happens ends up being too wordy for even the most patient reader. Suffice it to say that Block easily sustains your interest (and then some) as he travels through shadowy ambient soundscape at the start (played on vintage EM gear, though), then morphs into some tasty midtempo EM (echoes of Jarre and hints of Berlin), before dissolving into formless electronic miasmas of ebbing/flowing analogue keys and ending up with lots of laser zapping fast tempo quasi-Germanic EM as the track winds up.

The two remaining songs, "Four Days On" and "Third Force," while not at all mere repetitions or overly derivative of earlier tracks, offer more variations of homages to electronic music from decades gone by. The mood/tempo varies within each song, sometimes being flowing and darker in tone and other times containing catchy rhythms and upbeat melodies (one stretch even reminded me of carnival music!).

I wish I could name more of the older artists whom I caught sonic "glimpses" of while listening to Escape Velocity. I admit to being slow on the uptake when wracking my brain to answer the question "Now, who does that sound like?" True aficionados of EM from the '60s and '70s will almost certainly spot many more influences than I picked up on. I "hear" the many keyboards that Block unfurls (with unbelievable skill, artistry and dexterity, by the way) from that era, even if I can't tell you exactly what they are (hey, cut me some slack -- I'm only a writer, not a musician).

Regardless of any lack of specifics contained in this review, I can state emphatically that Escape Velocity is a way cool and stunning album, be it from a technical aspect (everything sounds fantastic) or from an entertainment angle (this music is a blast to indulge in, whether it be the bouncy tunes or the more moody ones). Basically, it's like taking a trip down memory lane but leaving behind all the cheesiness and the "gee whiz" factor which seemed prevalent on early EM recordings ("Wow, a synth can sound like that? Cool!"). Block has crafted what may be the perfect retro-homage album and I highly recommend it to fans of the genre. Additionally, progheads who favor keyboard instrumentals should likewise seek this one out.

Here's a review from Sonic Curiosity by Matt Howarth:

This release from 2006 offers 63 minutes of cordial electronic music.

Lush electronics ooze forth, egged on by sultry polymerized rhythms that provide pleasing locomotion to the comfortable compositions. An easy-going structure is utilized, saturating the music with an enthralling dreaminess that is not impaired by the percussive presence. Sustained textures are heavily augmented by uncyclic riffs, giving the music a constant sensation of creative progression. Strings and woodwinds are synthetically generated, adding a pastoral flair to some of the tunes. A strong sense of humanity is present too, imbuing the music with a congenial accessibility. Pensive moments prosper from this benevolence. Even when the music grows more lively, a distinct humility serves to sedate the activity.

While most of the tracks are short (from 5 to 10 minutes long), there is an epic piece ("Orbits") whose 27 minute duration affords Block ample opportunity to meticulously create a gradual evolution that is quite thrilling in its development from atmospheric drones into a pastiche of stately, dramatic melodies.

A verity of amiable qualities permeates this tuneage. Block's music achieves a level above standard ambience while exercising a richness found in masterful contemporary electronics. While dipping fingers in both ends of this sonic spectrum, this release effectively straddles barriers and produces music that is universally tantalizing.

Here's a review from Morpheus Music:

Melodic beat-driven synthesiser music. Synthetic Block delivers multi-layered synth pads, sequences and leads laid out in careful arrangements that put emphasis on the development of tunes and themes above focussing on the clever effects or hazy atmospheres favoured by many of his contemporaries. Jonathan Block uses the term 'progressive ambient music' to describe his sound - his compositions here being uncomplicated with a regularity of structure, interest value often built up by developing one pattern into another, the mood shifting, steadily morphing. Clearly defined sounds overlaid upon one another are the order of the day; these include mellotron-type flute voices and sweeping drones that soften the sharp edges of many of the other programmed patches.

Dynamic themes with a positive vibe - the clean synthetic approach suggesting a spaciness at times, more mechanical at others. There are passages of beatless drones and ambient planes notably at the introduction to 'Orbits' the album's central piece. Here rhythmic sequences gradually open up, cycle into beats and then run through no less than five distinct sections.

A engineering fantasy fronts the package - gleaming plugs and castings wrapped up in a graphic burst of colour as if sputtering into flame. Outer cover text is minimal - providing titles and track information only. Inside and on the rear panel there are more sharp imaginary engine structures - the front cover reverse showing credits and website details.

Synthetic Block has a number of releases in the back-catalogue as a result of over 20 years of music making. Escape Velocity is released on Gears Of Sand Records and can be purchased directly from the website or via CD Baby. The album has a traditional electronic music feel to it - influence by the old school of synthesiser pioneers. Most tracks are mid-length with 'Third Force' running up to eleven minutes twenty seven and 'Orbits' topping twenty six minutes.