A concept album can be a hard feat to pull off. On one hand you must make sure that the music you create is consistent enough to be relevant to the concept. On the other hand, there must be enough variety over each track to ensure that the listener remains interested. Coherence, above all, is essential. With these factors in mind, here is 2002 – a sci-fi concept album by solo artist New Dark Age.
Before I get into the bulk of the review, I must make it clear that this album takes to the sci-fi concept completely, right up to the song titles and album cover. Although I can understand that this may put some people off, if you pass this one up you would seriously be missing out. The care that has gone into this album is clear, and the breadth of genres and almost impeccable mixing highlights this. If you are having any doubts about giving this album a go, just give the first five tracks a listen and try to appreciate the work that has gone into them and the atmosphere they are trying to portray. Personally, I’m not a huge sci-fi fan, but that didn’t stop me from listening to much of this album with a guilty nerd-induced smile on my face. And whilst it is hard to find a defined storyline within the album (apart from perhaps departure, travel and return), each track is in itself a clearly described situation.
Moving on from the concept, let’s talk about the music. 2002 is an instrumental album which draws from a wide range of genres to create a fantastic mix of sounds and feelings. Throughout the album you can expect to hear hip-hop beats, groove-heavy bass, delicate keyboard tones, hazy and discordant guitars, whining synths, and ambient soundscapes. These all flow seamlessly in and out to create tracks that are, occasionally, nothing short of epic. Despite this collage of sounds, it never feels like New Dark Age is trying his hand at too much at once. The diversity in 2002 never oversteps its bounds and always remains defined and controlled. Whilst one or two of the shorter tracks can feel a little like filler, most are excellent interludes between some fantastic songs, with Frequent New Worlds being a dirty, synth heavy highlight.
Perhaps the only serious issue I had with this album are the drums. More often than not they are too dominant and overbearing, and become a distraction from what else is happening in the song. This is a real shame when the rest of the instrumentation is so well put together, because there are some genuinely brilliant moments that could be so much more with just a little less volume on the drum track. I also found that the drums could often sound a bit too synthetic. I realise this is often a problem when using a drum machine, but some subtlety would go a long way. However, like any high quality independent release, to make such a great album without huge financial backing is a sure success story.
So, as a group of instrumental sci-fi themed songs, 2002 certainly works. You shouldn’t expect a coherent story, but the quality of this album more than makes up for it. All in all, New Dark Age has managed to create a selection of tracks with enough variety and breadth to keep you listening for every detail.
Standout tracks: Cyberpunk Club, VY Canis Majoris (Close Call), Where One Journey Ends