Many kilometers separate Eden from utopia. The first shoots, green and abundant, from intact soil. Utopias, the work of mere humans, are simulacra of perfection, cast in streamlined forms and polished to blinding brilliance. On his 2018 album Zebra, composer Alexis Georgopoulos, aka Arp, has sown an organic paradise from brilliant synthesizers and tactile percussion. It was hot and windy; even when blanketed in electronic tones, you could practically feel the wood grain on the plates of his softly struck marimba. On New PleasuresGeorgopoulos rejects Zebrait is naturalism. Instead, it stares ahead, creating an elegant, machine-driven sanctuary out of plastic drum machine patterns and irregular synthetic textures. Mallet instruments and fretless bass infuse the album with gentle warmth, but Georgopoulos seems more interested in the icy, detached soundscapes. If this is a picture of our silicon future, it is often a picture without air.
New Pleasures is the second opus of Arp’s Zebra trilogy. The first chapter, winding and sun-drenched, gave the impression of sliding along the water, warm in an inflatable raft, through an unknown but idyllic terrain. The new record also suggests forward motion, but it’s more like speed through a freshly paved tunnel late at night: smooth, propelling and lit by a cool fluorescent glow. Georgopoulos returns to his beloved collection of analog synthesizers throughout New Pleasures, coating the clattering drum machines with a metallic sheen. His choice of instruments reinforces the album’s retro-futuristic vibe, especially on the title track – a neon-lit sci-fi ballad that layers the spiny shards of a Prophet 5 and a Moog Model D with a fretless bass and 808s. Its latticework of synths is intricate and dynamic, but it’s Georgopoulos’ drum machines and percussionist Lautaro Burgos that provide the real meat of the track. Stuffed Linn patterns and a delicate marimba ground the muscular Phil Collins-waisted beats that punctuate the song, evoking a brilliant update of ’80s black tech.
New Pleasures emphasizes a few key sounds, like a painting rendered in a minimal color palette. Every detail is carefully arranged, but the ultimate effect can sometimes be too bright. It’s easy to listen to, but unlike its predecessor, New Pleasures tends to fade into the background, prompting listeners to space themselves out. Every once in a while, a beautifully blended drum passage or snappy synth enters the haze: Opener “The Peripheral” is lifted by chattering mallets and an effect that sounds like seltzer bubbles exploding in Dolby.
Little gems like this reveal themselves in every meticulously recorded track. Georgopoulos designs the “Cloud Storage” closure exclusively from such precise granules. It somehow feels astral and earthly at the same time; synths sway like beaming searchlights in the sky as programmed marimba and chirps rumble below. It’s one of the most sparse tracks on the record, inviting in its space. “Cloud Storage” is the most intimate companion to “The Peripheral”; the conversation between the two cuts suggests an album that is more vulnerable and quietly adventurous than most songs in between.