Reviews Neon Shudder Ghost Process

Neon Shudder

Ghost Process

Covering much of the same ground as a group like Perturbator, Philadelphia’s neon shudder makes dark electronic music inspired by the world of cyberpunk – a genre of sci-fi that’s often described as “future noir” and includes works like Blade Runner and Shadowrun. Though I didn’t say as much in my review of it, Áine O'Dwyer’s Music for Church Cleaners actually had many themes on it that reminded me of the Shadowrun game for the Sega Genesis – particularly the moments where the player had to negotiate the Native American lands. neon shudder’s Ghost Process EP, released just a few months after 2015’s Hex Phase, moves well beyond sounding “similar” to that game’s music however – it may as well be an alternate soundtrack to Shadowrun or the synth-based score to a made-for-video sci-fi horror flick.

If Hex Phase was a more atmospheric overall album with a few club cuts thrown in though, Ghost Process plays like a dark but kinetic dance record. Both these albums are full of well-crafted and often catchy tunes, but I found that the tracks on Hex Phase grew somewhat repetitive down the stretch, lacking a sense of purpose or evolution as they progressed. This issue is mitigated on Ghost Process since the tracks here are somewhat shorter, making the album easier to digest with a more aggressive tone that’s established early on in opening track “Behold a Pale Horse.”

Combining Lords of Acid-style late ‘90s electro with vintage John Carpenter synth melodies, this opener is nearly frantic and has a definite sense of menace to it. The keyboard sequences bubbling under the prominent main themes are neat, but I especially like the simple but effective use of a disquieting two-note piano sequence to solidify the mood. Slightly less obviously intense, the grimy “Kneecapped” remains fairly intimidating, though there is a glimmer of hope hinted at in its chord structure. Again, the track clips along nicely to pounding percussion loops, with warbling pad tones painting a gloomy ambiance. Arguably the track here most similar to music of the 16-bit gaming era, “Rough Divide” revolves around hollow keyboard tones and a bassline that unfolds at an almost unnaturally rapid pace, while “These Forsaken Prisms” evokes a sense of mystery and clearly shows neon shudder’s expertise in replicating nostalgic sounds and tones with its glass harmonica melody, horn parts, and sci-fi chatter.

Ghost Process concludes with two new renditions of previously-released neon shudder tracks. The slick “mother mix” of “Xenostasis” (created by fellow Pennsylvania electro artist Reapers) grooves along to a NIN-like rhythm, with subtle discordant background tones and a grossly distorted main melody. Mangled noise effects along with wailing and wordless voice parts which collide in unsettling harmonies make this darker and more sinister than much of anything else on the album. The “pixel perfect” mix of “end of the line,” on the other hand, is a hazy and fairly quiet but relatively straightforward chiptunes adaptation of the melancholic original. Pushed along at moderate tempo by a typically “poofy” 8-bit rhythm, the almost Persian melody here is quite piercing, and there’s a nice blending of sounds during the chorus.

Ghost Process winds up as an improvement over the previous, Hex Phase album, precisely capturing the feel and imitating the sound of vintage synthesizer-driven music. Having spent my formative years playing NES and watching bad, frequently inappropriate movies, I love this kind of music. Still, neon shudder struck me as being among the numerous modern synthesizer outfits whose work I found somewhat underwhelming. Given that most anyone who likes this sort of music in the first place would (on some level at least) enjoy what neon shudder has to offer, it’s quite possible that either my standards are too high (and possibly misguided) or that I’m simply burnt out on this genre (maybe I've just seen too many piss poor synth group live shows that nearly bored me to tears). Either way, I’m opstimistic to see how the project’s upcoming debut full-length turns out – perhaps neon shudder will finally nail that synthrock sound that I’ve been searching for all along.

7.0 / 10Andy

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7.0 / 10

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