Brent Watkins - Distant Worlds (Album Review)

Accepting our own insignificance can be a challenge. In a capitalistic structure where we're told we all have value (if we work hard, that is), gazing upon the night's sky and seeing how small we pale in comparison may not be an easy exercise for the ego. However, accepting our fate as inconsequential beings in an incomprehensibly large universe is the logical thing to do. But what, then, are we to do once we demote our importance? How can we, as intelligent agents, go on knowing our minute place in a vast universe? One such antidote is an appreciation of art, whose task is to hold up a mirror and show us that while life is meaningless, living it doesn't have to be void of beauty. 

Based in the Iowan city of Cedar Rapids, electroacoustic composer and performer Brents Watkins grew up during the frontier of space exploration. His formative years were heavily influenced by the culture of the space race, evidenced by his second full-length album, the cosmic Distant Worlds. Replete with futuristic tones counter-balanced by earthly textures and rhythms, the merging of acoustic instrumentation such as piano with an electronic palette sees Watkins sprinkle odd sounds and auditory anomalies around his carefully composed music. While at times the tracks can have an artificial feeling, the virtual strings and instruments sounding like plastic space debris floating around celestial colour, this cinematic element helps to create an escapist world for the listener, launching them into a dreamlike, star-filled, atmosphere. 

It's no surprise that Watkins has worked in film and television, and his music straddles the line between frequency-perfect film scores and wildly creative electronic entrepreneurship. Starting on Earth with the acoustic piano of the opening track "Prelude", it doesn't take long for these songs to lift-off into the stratosphere. The sampled spoken word exposition of "Apollo" places the listener in a bygone time of hopeful exploration, a sentiment mirrored in the rhythmic pulses and searching tones of its synth work. This allusion to the possibilities of the future remain in the trance vibe of "The Nature of Light" and the downtempo peculiarity of "Singularity", which adds rock guitar shredding to its canvas of sci-fi sounds.  

If all of this sounds too haughty to be fun, fret not. "On The Beam" employs a child-like sense of wonder via high-octane synth leads to create something purely energizing, even if it does sound like the soundtrack to an 80s Space Invader type arcade game. Elsewhere, "Voyager" touches on the darker aspects of the unknown with its menacing sonics, minor keys, and foreboding vocal samples, "Arrival" sounds like the type of music a DJ on the starship enterprise might play to fill the dance floor, and the behemoth closing track, "Aftermath", stands at just over 11 minutes long and is an ambient exploration into the outer-reaches of the albums galactic scope.

Distant Worlds by Brent Watkins lives up to its promise of transporting the listener to exotic realms through alluringly sophisticated production and playful musical ideas that expound on the mystery of space exploration to lift the listener out of the every-day and into the heights of human inquisitiveness.