The Opposite Of Staring Into Space Reviews

This review is from Matt Howarthís Sonic Curiosity site:

Synthetic Block: The Opposite of Staring Into Space

Block returns with 73 minutes of significant electronic music.

Synthesizers swarm to fill the air with lustrous sounds. Keyboard riffs add authoritative motivation to the flow, further injected with power by E-perc strains. Each aspect of the mix responds in sinuous patterns to each other, generating intricate melodies. Those melodies are rather dramatic and entertaining.

This music constantly urges toward loftier heights, resounding with epic stature and charming harmonics. There is a definite soft command going on, but the tuneage attracts through enticing riffs and melodics rather than by any forceful compulsion.

It is an attraction that is hard to avoid. The music rumbles with alien strangeness, while enthusiastic rhythms bestow a catchy allure to the surging electronics. Block's style tends toward compositions of slowbuilding grandeur, overlaying riffs that are striving to evolve to greatness.

There are some atmospheric moments, but even these sedate passages are shot through with a quivering tension, as if rallying anticipation for the next riff. These stately lulls provide recuperative points, energizing the audience for the inevitable wave of uplifting electronics that lurks only seconds away.

Block's music is thoroughly stimulating and eminently rewarding.

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

Synthetic Block: The Opposite of Staring Into Space

Jonathan ìSyntheticî Blockís offering for 1999 is a major improvement over his lackluster 1998 self-titled Synthetic Block album. He's learned to vary his chord changes and harmonies, heís included dissonance to move things along, and heís pepped up his pacing with some good techno/electronica rhythms. He can also liquefy his sound into smooth chill-out ambience. Though he uses only a synthesizer, he can get a good variety of textures, from spacey swoops to chug-along beats. Each piece now has more structure, more different types of sound, so that what you find at the beginning is not what you find in the middle or the end an important criterion, in my opinion, even for ambient.

He's got a kind of TV or film-style sound, which suggests action sequences in a thriller or science-fiction series episode. It suggests rather than describes, so that you can put the appropriate skulking about, car chase, hidden planet, or floating starship image alongside what you hear. I wouldnít be surprised if Block did music for video games or commercials, if not actual TV or films it seems to be just the type of music they use. There is enough of a rock element to attract younger listeners, and enough ambient to hold a more sophisticated (or faded-out) listener.

Some of the more interesting tracks are the slow ambient first piece, "Trylon," which is my favorite; the technoid (and oddly titled) "A Science of Forget" (track 3), and the ominous, somewhat ìdarkî track 7, "After." The album title is also one of the cleverest Iíve seen "The Opposite of Staring into Space," something I do too often it seems. Yes, the words count too, in this very electronic album tailor-made for screen-starers like you and me.

HMGS rating: 8 out of 10
Hannah M.G. Shapero 6/27/01

On the Wind and Wire Web site, David Hassell picks his favorite releases for 1999:

Synthetic Block - The Opposite of Staring Into Space

Jonathan Block is a musical gourmet. You won't find a single overdone, artificial, excessive, abrasive, or throwaway moment in either his equally superb debut or this second release of his. He embodies so many electronic music references that the end product would be expected to emerge as noise in lesser hands. Jonathan has somehow managed to tame so many elements to create his own style that sounds so... natural.
My pick for overall best album of the year.

The following review was written by Phil Derby, and appeared in the May 2000 issue of Expose:

Synthetic Block - "The Opposite of Staring Into Space"
(Ironing Board Recordings, IBR6-9911-D, 1999, CD)

Mike Ohman raved about Synthetic Block's (a.k.a. Jonathan Block) self-titled release in issue #16, and the follow up shows that it was no fluke. Masterfully mixing retro analog and progressive sounds with modern ambience and synths, Block is hard to place on the musical continuum, but the result is highly successful. Whether drifting on soft synth pads ("Trylon") or playing fine prog-like lead lines ("Arc," "A Science of Forget"), Block demonstrates his fine sense of musical clarity. Each track is different, yet the music moves purposefully and fluidly. "Engine Room" compares favorably with artists like Dweller at the Threshold. Though clearly in the camp of other instrumental electronic artists like Tangerine Dream and their protegees, Synthetic Block has carved out a niche that should have a wider appeal. Percussion is carefully blended into the mix of ambient and progressive sounds, and is particularly effective on "A Science of Forget." The percussive sound here is reminiscent of Tangerine Dream's "No Man's Land," from their excellent 1983 release Hyperborea. But again, this is no mere TD or Klaus Schulze clone; there are hints of many different influences here, and the end result is very sonically satisfying.

Chuck van Zyl authored this write-up to introduce the second CD to his audience on Star's End:

After refining his talent for composition, rhythm and electronic timbres in the now legendary cassette underground of the '80s, Jonathan Block had his first full length CD released by the Mindspore label in 1998. The self-titled Synthetic Block album was a curiosity in the midst of a more techno-influenced catalogue.

Describing his music as Progressive Ambience, Synthetic Block demonstrates his ability as a composer by effectively combining the past with the modern - classic spacemusic merged with chillout room sensibilities; his talent as a synthesist - musical statements expressed through synth programming craft; and insight as a musician - the interesting, cohesive mix of infectious, mild techno beats with the shimmering sequencer patterns of pre-sampling technology.

After the debut CD, Synthetic Block's music turned up on various anthologies and in 1999 he began "shopping" a new studio album to prospective labels. As many muscians in the spacemusic community have discovered, it is very difficult to attract interest to a new project that is so much of a meltdown of genres as to be in and of itself totally unique. Ultimately, The Opposite of Staring Into Space was released in Autumn of 1999 on Block's own Ironing Board label.

The Opposite of Staring Into Space continues in the style set down on the debut self titled CD by Synthetic Block. With references to the past like the brittle sound of mellotron flute and percolating analogue sequencer cycles completely in sync with modern electronic percussion and harmonically complex samples, The Opposite of Staring Into Space rises above its technical attributes. Layers of rhythms and chord shifting patterns slowly arising out of a spacey intro comprises the typical track. With little in the way of tension and release, the CD still engages the listener - much in the same way visiting a favorite destination engages the traveller.

With regard to live performances, Synthetic Block embraces the challange of translating his music into this difficult and unpredictable environment. Of the live setting he says, "Playing live is at least half the reason why I'm involved in music. For me, it gets pretty boring holed up in the studio unless I know there will be a live outlet somewhere down the road." Block's concert audiences are advised to experience the event without the restraints usually implied by western venues, "I make it a point, at the beginning of a show, to tell folks that they don't have a responsibility to sit in their chairs and stare at me - they can move around, I really don't care. It's never been a distraction," offers Block. Along with his live electronic music, occasionally Block will read aloud his original poetry. "Quite haunting" according to Progression magazine.

Here's a review by Andy Garibaldi of CD Services, Dundee, Scotland:

Second album and it's really excellent. Predominantly inhabiting what you may describe as a sort of mellow link between synth music that's melodic and spacey at one end, a bit dark and solid at the other. The tracks range from six to eleven minutes long and there is plenty of music into which you can immerse yourself. For the first three tracks the feel is relaxed, the music full-sounding yet with a sense of purpose and heart, not really space music - it's got more going for it than that implies - and there's melody in there too but not what you'd call a tune. In track three, a more solid rhythm arrives with a sampled drum and electronic percussion backbone as the synths soar into the sunset. After this tracks four and five possess a slowly rhythmic, atmospheric flow where the layers of music, from the undulating deep bass through the string synth heart to the mid-range synth foreground all combine to produce music that is truly out of this world and quite cosmic in its own way. The eleven minute track called 'Engine Room' is a perfect description as deep sonorous, almost sequencer-like, synth rhythms form the backdrop as rich synth layers hum at the heart of the track as lead work flies overhead on a pretty mesmerising piece of music. Track seven is a beautifully textured slice of full-sounding space music with a gorgeous brief piano lead towards the end, while the final track opens with mellotrons galore in fine Froese fashion to close on the four minute mark until the solid, slow rhythm emerges, percussive and electronic, then the mellotron sound returns briefly as a chunky harpsichord-like lead synth line, synth choral layer enter, only then to fade and reveal a solid sequencer line and 'traditional' lead synth work doing a neat melodic number. This then changes shape into a gorgeous flowing piece of cosmic music with a lightly percussive backdrop, before the echoed synth leads re-emerge to take the track to its conclusion. Overall, a superb album that improves with every play and should be enjoyed by synth fans whether into spacey, melodic, atmospheric.

Another review by Phil Derby. This one from SMD's web site:

Ironing Board Recordings (1999) Time: 73:11

Various takes on Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze are something I usually like, but it's great when an artist makes electronic music that stands on its own, with no easy comparisons. I felt that way about Synthetic Block's self-titled first release, and I feel even more so about The Opposite of Staring into Space. As a listener, this is great. As a reviewer, it puts me in a bit of a quandary. Without a frame of reference, how shall I describe Jonathan Block's excellent music? Well, for starters, these eight songs strike me as very deliberate, conscious efforts to create a space for the listener to reflect, relax, and really listen to the music being played. "Trylon" is a great floater to get things going, suitable for your next outer space sojourn. "Arc" is still mellow and reflective, but with hints of progressive rock. Even more progressive sounding is "A Science of Forget," a wonderfully intricate soundscape. As on the first Synthetic Block release, drum machines are used judiciously and effectively, only enhancing, never detracting from, the music. "Half Awake" could be a quieter alter ego to "Swell and Slack," Block's contribution to the excellent 2-CD compilation GoldTri: Volume One.

Most of the pieces start with deep drones, and build from there, but each goes in a somewhat different direction. Block has great musical vision and a sense of identity. That is, he has the ability to explore a variety of sonic terrain, without alienating the listener as he goes along for the ride. Perhaps the best thing, guys, if your girlfriends or spouses can't stand prog rock or ambient music, my wife listened to this CD from start to finish, and actually enjoyed it! Enough said. Highly recommended, virtually a must if you like both ambient/electronic and progressive music.