Spaces Between - The Boy Eats His Ritalin (review)

Review by: Daniel Nightingale

Spaces Between
is the one man band of Mike Orr, from Bristol, UK.

Less a proper 'album' of rock songs, this is more snippets and soundscapes of guitar-based ambiance and atmosphere, with the occasional synthetic drum sounds. According to the myspace the music is intended for soundtrack work, and it's pretty obvious from the tracks that space is left for another medium. That being said many of the songs veer closer to completed form.

The CD starts off with picked guitar and drum-machine sounding drums, but the rhythm falls off course sometimes. Rapid picking and delayed harmonics add a variety of layer. By the end loud guitars come in – it's clearly not “properly” mastered but it's nice to hear some dynamic range on a CD for once. You can almost picture a chaotic visual scene building up, peaking, and falling back.

Track 2 is hypnotic and dramatic – it sounds like synths are doing some work here too but it's hard to tell what's a new instrument and what's heavily effected guitar – the backwards drums and masking sounds follow the synth glitches very nicely and create a Boards of Canada style atmosphere.

Track 3 starts with more white noise-esq gutiar picking and sounds like the end of a Mogwai concert. You can tell there's some rumble happening but it needs more serious low end – even on my basic monitors I'm not hearing a lot below 200Hz. Maybe mastering could benefit here in smoothing the high end and bringing out more of the low.

Track 4 brings more ambient metal sounds and crystally feedback. By this point, unfortunately, in terms of soundscapes the guitar is getting old – not that there's any flaw in the playing or sounds – it would be just be nice to hear a differentiation of instruments and sounds. Some other synths, pedals, a bass, a steel guitar beaten with a rusty spoon, or some out there reverbed old school drum machine sounds. The slide melody certainty provides adequate hook, however, and the simple drums support it. The drums are still a little too upfront and digital sounding – even when washed out with white noise it's less of an organic sound and more of a metronome.

At first the opening of track 5 sounds like a piano - eventually the phrasing gives it away but the idea is there – a version with a deep grand piano could really add another dimension to the sound here.

Throughout the CD there are a clear range of influences, from hints of a Sigur Ros type bowed guitar sound to Radiohead-esq arpergios and electro-drums – Track 6 features a nice mix of the classic Radiohead style acoustic drum sound with noiser electronic/static drums. There's a great rhythm guitar that really suggests a vocal line, unlike most of the other tracks – a female singer or a high pitched Thom Yorke sound comes to mind.

As if in answer to the previous song track 7 throws a vocal sample into the mix and it sounds great. It's a nice blend of Tortoise like guitar and Trans Am vocal sample manipulation. This is probably my favorite track, and it could easy stand on it's own as a song. I can imagine it played by a live band.

The nearly 10:00 minute track 9 clearly intends background music and is mostly held together by a very simple guitar arpeggio stretched over 6 minutes before another burst of guitar static.

Track 10 has a interesting ethnic feel but drums come in out of nowhere and throw the delicate balance of the track off a little. Track 11 by comparison is very percussion based and the loud drums work here, with Kraftwerk esq telephone noises and ring-mod bell sounds. This is another track I can hear with a full band really working and pumping up a crowd in a bar or club.

The biggest thing going for these works is the melody; while there are a few key sounds, mostly guitar styles, that feature over and over in all tracks, very seldom did I hear a melody being reused or over done. While much of the textures become familiar by the end, each song certainly stands on it's own in terms of hooks and musical ideas. Considering that the recordings span a two year period it's a notable quality and ultimately gives this music a chance to stand out and work in both a soundtrack and a live band style setting.

The only criticisms I can really level are the lack of bass – even deep piano would work, but a cheap bass guitar seems be a fairly easy solution – and an overall 'home demo' sound which would easily be remedied by reworking tracks that would be used in film or TV in a proper studio – obviously it's not in ones best financial interest to spend thousands of dollars on studio time when collaborative arrangements aren't in place and so one can't really see that as a fault, as it would be with a rock band or a live gigging ensemble. The goal of this recording is almost certainlly to attract attention to new, custom made pieces for directors, game designers, etc. and thus it's hard to conclude with a 'good' or 'bad' or a 'blank out of blank stars,' but I see great promise in this work and I can only wish the best of luck to a musician trying to get a foothold in a difficult to crack field!


Thanks Mike, for sending us the CD!
It was a great listen & well worth the wait.

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