>> Buffalo-based music ensemble, Space Cubs, has been as much an art machine in the visual sense as it operates in the sonic realm - their album covers and music videos indicate as much. This unbridled personality and the aesthetics of Suzanne Bonifacio have worked mechanically in tandem for two prior records, and this time, the artist is joined by two compatriots on the project, 'The 4th Age.'
The Good: Having also listened to the previous record, 'Something for Us' (2016), I feel confident that this project benefits from extra collaboration in the way of substance. The tracks on this album seem fuller and further digested, especially in the production front. The production on this record contributes to a multi-layered ambient waterfall of noise that in some parts of the record either grooves and in others numbs your ears, much with the help of Bonifacio’s decorative, but haunting vocals. The vocal production and mixing on its own deserve a paragraph to itself for both the inventiveness and how much they develop an overall sense of acoustic space through your headphones. This record feels somewhere between swimming in space, a loading screen for an 8-bit arcade game, and the fever dream of a disturbed film student.
A lot unlike other electronically influenced or inspired music with which I’m familiar, Space Cubs retain a quality that is very instrumental in an organic way, which others in the space tend to keep at arm's length. The record sounds like many flavors of electronica I’ve heard, but thankfully, less industrial and mechanical, and more like an organism. That’s to say that the ambient tones, ornate vocals, and percussive and often pulsating patterns in places on the record lend itself to sounding more fluid, and as the product of a breathing creature than mechanical noise. Some of what I’m impressed with most sonically is the electronic manipulations of the guitar and some drums that really create dope effects throughout this record. Where you can point out where instrumentation ends and electronic creation begins is fairly exciting.
The Bad: For all that it does have going for it, I don’t find 'The 4th Age' as having impressive longevity on the shelf going forward. This record is definitely one of the funkier canvasses in the art gallery so to speak, but not necessarily the kind that is a must-see, an old favorite, or a piece that will bring you back to the gallery over and over again. It is, to me, an experience that I will have indulged in once, and may not make space to return to again. For all the bells and whistles and inventiveness with sheer creativity in production found on the record, I find it difficult to connect with on much other than a sonic level. Even if for the organic elements in an otherwise wavy and spaced out aesthetic, 'The 4th Age' has little in the way of narrative, or a sense of cohesion. A static acoustic environment helps this to some extent but leaves me craving a deeper understanding of the artists’ intentions.
As prior mentioned I do find that vocals found within are produced very well and contribute considerably to the soundscape but listeners will struggle most of the time to interpret what is being sung. (Often times, I question whether knowing what the lyrics are is even integral to capturing the meaning or motive behind the record). This, in turn, brings me to my final quandary -
The primary struggle I have with this record is in part beginning to interpret what it is. 'The 4th Age' refuses to fit kindly into any specific space or category I can think of - hence the appropriate lack of genre-specific phrases in this review - but it’s worth acknowledging, that sometimes that specific confusion is pleasurable to an artist. It's sometimes deliberate. Whether this is or is not the case, I feel ultimately more can be achieved to engage listeners with a title as fascinating as 'The 4th Age' and the titles of the tracks as well as the album art, which are all alluring in their own right. I feel that in lieu of excellent production and really cool musical detailings, opportunities were lost in how to recant a concept or idea. 'The 4th Age' is not a perfect record, but I think Space Cubs is navigating its new sound in collaborating with a wider pool of brains and that further experimentation will prove fruitful down the line. My favorite track by far is "Ode to WV." <<