Friday, July 29, 2016

Pacific Deep's Gain

By Andrew B White

Pacific Deep is a collaboration between San Francisco’s Carl Grace & Auckland’s Raymond Hayter. “Gain” is the fourth release from this musical TPP (trans-pacific partnership) and the duo has consistently released albums annually since 2013. These albums are essentially collections of individual tracks that have been previously released on Soundcloud; remastered and sequenced into full albums with the odd remix added.

“Gain” continues in the vein of Pacific Deep’s previous releases – mostly vocal-based synthpop, with a little Euro-pop influence thrown in. If you are immediately in need of comparisons then artists such as the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, early Depeche Mode and Visage come to mind. “Gain” weighs in with a hefty 14 songs plus an additional remix. The songs are built around traditional pop arrangements and running times clock-in accordingly – they do not overstay their welcome or meander-on aimlessly.

The lyrics cover familiar love themes, often with a welcome quirk. For example on ‘My Friends Hate You’, a song about a domineering partner, Carl sings “my friends hate you, they don’t understand why I date you”. Indeed – we’ve probably all been there, and on ‘Rebellion Suits You’ the chorus states “you bring about rebellion, and it suits you, you wear it like a dress”. It both kind of dry, kind of nerdy and kind of fun, all at once.

There are a couple of slight deviations from the straight synthpop formula with the album’s only instrumental track ‘Found My Way Home’ and the darker and brooding ‘Under The Dirt’ but they both sit well alongside the other tracks.

In addition to the album’s opener ‘One More Day’, ‘My Friends Hate You’ and ‘Rebellion Suits You’ other highlights include ‘Tell It Like It Is’, ‘Crowded In Solitude’ and ‘Let Loose’.

‘Tell It Like It Is’ gets a little ‘DEVO’ on it and features some faux-rock guitar, a great synth line, a variation of timings in the chorus and some tasteful vocoder. ‘Crowded In Solitude’ sits in Depeche Mode territory both musically and lyrically – its not hard to imagine this song coming directly from the pen of M. Gore and co.

“Gain” is an upbeat, somewhat whimsical and endearing album of synthpop. Hardcore outrun or dark-synth fans might find the vocal-heavy material a little ‘lightweight’, however Pacifc Deep are a welcome addition to the current crop of modern synth artists, flying the flag for this style of music. This is the sound of two people collaborating together on music that they thoroughly enjoy making, with no egos on board, and it shows.

As with all of Pacific Deep’s albums, Gain is ‘name your price’ and is available on Bandcamp here and comes highly recommended by Synthetix.FM.

In an effort to find out more, I asked Pacific Deep’s Raymond Hayter to give Synthetix.FM a little background on the collaboration. Here’s what he told me:

In 2012, Raymond released an instrumental track ‘Natural Progression' on Soundcloud. It was primarily a collection of disjointed riffs that he liked, strung together into a semi-cohesive track. ‘Natural Progression’ was written using Propellerhead’s Reason 6.5 (music production software), not long after Reason started supporting ‘rack extensions’ which allowed third-party instruments to be used. The track featured a musical hook that used a new rack extension – an emulation of the Korg Polysix (1980s synthesizer). Carl happened to come across Raymond’s track online and liked what he heard, particularly the Polysix riff. Carl emailed Raymond asking if he was open to collaboration, whereby he would change the arrangement into a structured song, and add his vocals. Raymond was both thrilled and flattered that someone had listened to and liked his track, let alone wanted to work on it, and was quick to take Carl up on his offer.

The results were a success. Raymond was very happy with Carl’s structuring of the song, the additional vocals and enhanced arrangement. It was the start of what has become the Pacific Deep collaboration.

Since then, Carl and Raymond have been writing new songs together. Carl supplying the vocals and majority of the lyrics, with both contributing on synths, programming, arrangement, mixing and production. All collaboration to date has been via e-mail and swapping files on Dropbox. The two have spoken to each other on the phone only once!

Both Carl and Raymond immensely enjoy music of the 80s, primarily synthpop, and that has become the default basis for Pacific Deep’s sound. They also share an interest in the technology of the 80s and 90s – the Commodore 64 and Amiga computers in particular, electronics and other “techy” things. Some of these influences come through in the themes of the music.

Pacific Deep also collaborate with other musicians. A frequent collaborator is New York-based Ed Castro who produces under the name GEM. He has remixed several Pacific Deep tracks, reinventing them with his own style and ideas.

Pacific Deep are aware of the synthwave scene but are not directly a product of it. Primary influences are citied as Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, early Thomas Dolby, Depeche Mode, New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Jan Hammer, Yello, the Human League, Pseudo Echo and Soft Cell, along with some 90s euro-disco acts such as 2-Unlimited.

Production-wise, their DAW (digital audio workstation) of choice is Properllerhead’s Reason, mostly using soft synths and “Refill” sample and synth patch libraries.

Favorites include the Korg Mono/Poly and Polysix soft synths, Rob Papen’s Predator and Vacto, Propellerhead’s PX7 and Parsec, the Synapse Antidote and a refill of Fairlight and synth samples called “Way Beyond Fairlight”.

They also use hardware which consists of Carl’s guitar, a vintage Roland JX-8P synth, the new Roland JP-08 and JU-06 boutique synths and aDSI Mopho X4.

Given the physical distance factor between Raymond and Carl the are no plans for Pacific Deep to play live at this point. In the meantime the two intend to keep collaborating via the web and release more tracks and eventually another album.

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