Tuesday, February 23, 2016

OGRE's Calico Noir

By Rick Shithouse

OGRE's donned the trappings of 80s Miami one more time as the sequel to 2013's Calico Brawn hits prime time screens all over the planet. The follow up we were all champing at the bit for, the conclusion to all the open ends and loose threads, the final showdown. Calico Noir has arrived and if you thought the streets were hot during the daytime you won't believe how much hotter they get at night.

OGRE's penchant for this particular denomination of 80s inspired soundtrack synth music is one the most refined of all modern day producers. His ability to create atmosphere and hold your attention with a single chord and then deftly define intense scenes of rage and passion using uncomplicated elements makes the music shine and gives a massive amount of authenticity to the experience.

I have literally just finished watching the two-part masterpiece of Miami Vice's Golden Triangle as I write this review and this album is all I wanted to hear throughout it. As mentioned in my review of Calico Brawn, the absolutely accurate use of sounds and arrangements in OGRE's music makes for the perfect accompaniment to Miami Vice's visuals. The real soul of Miami Vice's music aesthetic is not one that producer's often tap into directly. Sure, there's surface reflections and homages to the base elements but only OGRE melds his creative muse into a purely musical citizen of Miami-Dade County and immerses himself into the complete aural representation of the soul of Miami Vice.

The story of Calico Noir treads darkened alleys and seedier establishments than Calico Brawn as OGRE goes deeper undercover for the biggest pay off of them all.  Opening with 'Hardboiled (Flashback)' the isolation and pure drama is right up front. This is not a going to be a by the numbers scenario and the law is going to be taking a back seat to justice. The flashbacks to the escalating violence that brings the protagonist to this point freeze frames moments of pain and anguish. A driving force rolls through the unflinching bassline; there's now nothing left to lose.

A sense of loss runs through a great deal of Miami Vice's greatest story arcs including the main back stories of Crockett and Tubbs themselves and this melancholy, bittersweet justice that takes the scum off the streets but doesn't fills the holes they've left behind runs throughout the darker aspects of Calico Noir. 'Out Of Retirement (Profiler Theme)' captures that sense of loss, the memories of those close now gone. The emptiness of one's pulse when ceases to beat for another. The strained melodies are pained with too many shed tears and sleepless nights. The chords sustain with presence and refuse to weaken, but rage grows beneath the surface that can't be tamed for much longer.

Back on the streets and 'Becoming' one with his surrounds our protagonist finds slipping back undercover all too easy. The fast lifestyle, the excitement, the danger. Being so close to the evil that threatens to completely swallow you into the void of the night. The temptation. The music becomes almost ghostlike as the spirits of the night fill the senses. It feels like it's all or nothing, like each haunting refrain takes one more step away from sanity and normality and further down the spiralling despair lurking behind every closed door in every darkened alley. What's even more terrifying is it feels like home.

OGRE's experimentations in completely avant garde sounds and textures on Calico Brawn have evolved into equally as spellbinding experiences on this album but don't attempt to pervert them away from reality. Instead we have much more authentically written pieces that thrive on an abundance of atmosphere and nuance instead of putting you off balance. The powerfully minimalistic 'Crime Scene Reconstruction 1' displays OGRE's uncanny ability to summon the vision through music to the listener. Single piano notes and echoing percussion ride a hum of intensity behind flickering red and blue sirens. The frame rate halves as details become more prominent. The once insignificant comes into sharp, shrill focus. A heart beats its last and the cold, dark of the night claims another soul.

The use of recurring or familiar passages in Calico Noir, like all great soundtrack albums, ties the scenes together and gives them a thematic to keep the story coherent. In 'Bureau and Boulevard' we have a powerfully rising anthem that constructs the engine of the law machine and sings the presence and efficiency of its power. The theme then turns into a night version of itself once the daylight ebbs and the darkness takes control in 'Profiler II', which instead or rising and reinforcing its own importance slowly strips back the layers as the protagonist leaves behind the police juggernaut to once again go deeper.

The night is even more unforgiving as OGRE brings in some incredibly powerful percussion in 'Entrapment' as the drama threatens to break the whole city apart. Tensions are stretched to beyond breaking point and the music becomes an unyielding pillar of aural vengeance.

The passage is cut short though as the scene switches to another location and 'Visions On A Red Eye Flight' begins to illustrate a new chapter of the story. The synths dance with a different palette of colours as new, fresh life is injected into the music. A feminine element becomes a bigger part of the equation and now a whole new set of circumstances and possibilities come in for landing.

New life becomes a part of the story as more life is drained from the streets of Miami as 'Crime Scene Investigation II' offers more singular clues. This truncated segue finds the tiniest of elements becoming vastly important. Ticking rhythms and heartbeats become a single final utterance. Is it a dead end? Or is there more to this than it appears?

The violence finally gets to be viewed from the demon's own brain as 'Mindset Of A Killer' illustrates the brutality and madness of someone capable of almost anything. Melodies are woven with fragility in an unbalanced and manic way that gives the listener the killer's perspective. The violence becomes justified to the maniac. The world is closing in and taking it down piece by piece is the only solution. A gentle fade gives the killer a moment's peace before once again the night will call him to take more lives.

Mapping the course of the narrative beautifully is 'Houndstooth (Profiler Reprise)' as our lead's journey is revisited and reflected upon. The changing of the structures of the original piece while adding a heavier, solemn presence to the instruments explores deeper feelings. The mirroring of similar frailties described in 'Mindset Of A Killer' makes for some incredibly deep moments of connection between the 'hero' and the 'villain'. The concept of taking life as a part of the law or as an act against the law seem to mix into a cloudy uncertainty of where the moral high ground even is.

The plot then takes another twist as 'Lockup' moves the story into the world of another villain; a seemingly unrelated character who all of sudden has a new importance to the case. The bass sways with drudgery and darkness of prison life, echoing the lost hopes and forgotten souls. Pieces of the puzzle begin to form as the music drowns out the conversation but expressions convey a new hope.

Called back out into the darkness amid the scurrying badges and flashing lights 'Crime Investigation III' takes the story into more Asiatic tones as the nefarious powers that run Chinatown offer a new twist to the repeating purge of human life. The tones are mysterious. Rhythms are scattered. Shards of evidence stab at possibilities, but all that results is more confusion. But what's this?  The girl on the plane appears of nowhere and all of a sudden the shape of things to come becomes razor sharp.

The investigation takes its toll on our hero. The years spent deep undercover. The loss of family, the loss of himself. The old feelings coming back and taking over. He's too old for this; this is a young man's game. But he knows the pieces are on the verge of coming together. The music brings elements together tightly and resolutely, soaring higher in tone and presence than ever before. A light of hope glows faintly and grows brighter. It looks like, this time, the case 'Cracked' just before he did.

A gleam returns to those old, tired eyes as a trap is set. He's on his own entirely now. The frenetic melody brings a new, refreshed vigour. He feels it within himself. Tonight he can take on the night - and win. The trap is set with a the girl as the bait. He knows he can't resist her. But he can't lose her to him. This is a one chance scenario. If she goes down he may as well go down too cause he can't live with the blood of another Innocent on his hands. The lights flicker. He hold his breath and lunges into the killer's path. The visual freezes. The sound stops. Blackness is all that's left.

The final atonement of Calico Noir is a credit roll of pondering thoughtfulness as the consequences remain unknown of the final showdown. The melodies revisit the anthems of the set pieces. The turns and twists are given a tone of  folly as perhaps all this violence, all this pain, all this suffering goes without a conclusion. Was the journey to find the killer or find himself? Does the taking of life need to be quantified and balanced or is this vicious circle inescapable? The vision fades with the music and the questions remain unanswered. But like all the most enriching journeys; the destination is sometimes completely irrelevant once arrived at.

In Calico Noir OGRE has taken the soul of his Miami Vice homage and repurposed and recrafted it into a completely tactile original story. This is the entire definition of taking 80s ideas and giving them new contexts. The sights and sounds breathe in with intoxicating familiarity but the craftsmanship and reformatting of them into this complete experience is really where the magic exists.

OGRE presents Calico Noir on his Bandcamp page here in the usual array of digitally downloadable formats as well as on limited edition cassette. This album is another high water mark for the soundtrack genres of 80s inspired synth music and OGRE creates something wholly evocative and engaging from the opening establishing shot to the final second of the credit roll. Undoubtedly,  a Synthetix Reference Experience and an album that sits in the extreme upper echelon of 80s inspired soundtrack experiences.

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