The self-directed video for Chrome Canyon's "Memories of a Scientist" says everything one might need to know about the Brooklyn artist and recent Stones Throw signee. In the five-minute clip, Chrome Canyon (a.k.a. Morgan Z) paints himself as a frizzy-haired madman, albeit one who's producing funky sonic experiments with vintage analog synths and mountains of old recording equipment in lieu of explosive chemicals and glass test tubes. The sound and look is a little goofy and dated, but it's also an excellent study of synth masters from decades past—he draws heavily from Vangelis' Blade Runner score, Wendy Carlos' work on Tron, and Giorgio Moroder's film soundtracks. Sharing their penchant for grand compositions, his debut full-length, Elemental Themes, is a collection of cinematic epics, all of them begging to be set to the kind of cult retro-futuristic sci-fi films he so admires.
Elemental Themes begins where our own world ends, as the synth-powered "Beginnings" feels like the theme to a post-apocalyptic nightmare, with haunting, ethereal vocals layered on top of pummeling live drums. "Legends" has a real Halloween vibe to it, but not in a scary-movie way; it's more like what one might imagine soundtracking some cheesy b-movie starring mischief-making teenage punks terrorizing the town in sheets with eye holes cut out. The LP's title track, on the other hand, is immensely creepy, as "Elemental Themes" opens with robotic vocals delivering a sad message of loneliness and isolation before the song dissolves into a jazzy saxophone solo.
"Carfire on the Highway" edges on spooky in a way not unlike Air's The Virgin Suicides soundtrack. (This is not entirely surprising. Morgan Z employed mastering engineer Nilesh Patel on Elemental Themes, who previously lent his expertise to now-classic Air, Daft Punk, and Pulp albums. As it turns out, the Chrome Canyon LP was his last project; Patel passed away earlier this year.) The record's booming soundscapes do occasionally give way to minimalist, eerie interludes, like "Cave of Light" and "Sacred Mountain," both of which build up the emotional intensity of the Chrome Canyon's intergalactic journey.
Elemental Themes is striking in that Morgan Z has created such a huge, otherworldly sound all on his own, using only analog instruments in his Greenpoint studio. But it's hard to not feel a little cheated that it's an audio-only release, particularly given his substantial directing talent and distinct A/V vision, as shown by his DIY music videos for "Memories of a Scientist" and "Branches." Elemental Themes is a great movie soundtrack—the film just doesn't exist yet. Perhaps one day, it will.