Review – Two Quiet Suns: “Kepler Mission”

I first became aware of this album on one of these evenings where I wanted something new musically – but was too lazy to search for something. Luckily, Thomas Mathie aka @headphonaught just tweeted about this album “Kepler Mission” by Two Quiet Suns. Huh? I decided to give it a try.

Two Quiet Suns, as it seems, are a synthesizer duo from the United Kingdom. Their album is tagged “ambient bass breaks cinematic electronic idm psycadelic sci-fi synth tape ambient beats electro space tape United Kingdom”…whatever that means – at least it’s double ambient and double tape. I simply decided to listen.

Yes, it’s synthesizers all right. It’s also ambient of sorts (while not moving away from a tonal/song approach completely), and it’s got beats. Much more, however, it somehow tells a story. Not your action-ladden mystery thriller, more something with a more brooding, if somewhat eerie atmosphere – the kind of story where after reading it you’re not exactly sure how to feel (and I mean that in a positive way).

Speaking from the musical side, the beauty here is really centered around the synth side. And starting some conversations on twitter with the duo, I quickly discovered they’re at least as synth-nerdy as I am (warning! synth-nerd discussion ahead!)

The center of their creations is a pair of Kurzweils, more specifically a K2500 and a PC3, as they explained in a gearslutz post (most recently adding a K2661). The main lead/bass synth is a DSI Evolver (which is on my personal shortlist), and this gets enhanced with various funny things, including a Waldorf Microwave XT+…they’re recoding at a friend’s studio (which also has a Waldorf Q), and their recording chain is most unusual, as it goes via an 8-track analogue via an analog mastering chain and a Revox 2-track (there’s really two times tape, as in the tags!) back into Protools – go figure. I decided I liked that.

So, as I said, the beauty is really on the synth side, and by that I mean a very tasteful and creative use of synthesizer sounds. A lot of the sounds sound very lively, almost organic, which is at times contrasted with some decidedly digital-lifeless-ish pads. And fortunately, there’s really nothing trying to imitate an acoustic instrument (with the exception of the drums on some tracks, which, while they have a decidedly electronic sound in a positive way, still sound like a synth sounding like an acoustic drum – which I don’t mean in a bad way).

(With such an odd recording tech approach, it’s also interesting to have a look at the audio quality: first of all, the album is roughly in a K-14 ballpark (meaning roughly -14dB RMS), which is a nice thing. Due to the clever sound design, the audio really changes from spares to dense in the frequency range – what needs to be mentioned, though, is that the low frequency content is mixed oooh so deep, which might compromise your listening experience on a lot of systems (and most definitely will ruin the experience on laptop speakers) – I personally found that listening to it only on the nearfields, the low mid range sounded very muddy, simply because of the lows messing with it (which can be remedied with the sub).

Of course, just sounds would be boring, but Two Quiet Suns really have done a fantastic job not only to compose music around these sounds which put them to nice use, but also to seemingly tell a story while doing so.

The title “Kepler Mission”, as well as some of the track titles, obviously hint at some sci-fi content (see those tags again), but even without those titles and tags, it quickly becomes clear that this is the case. This isn’t by any means an album with catchy melodies, with challenging harmonic arrangements or clever beats. My first impression after listening to this album full-length (and one that has stayed until now): this is the soundtrack to a movie. More specifically, a Fritz-Lang-directed silent movie, based on a novel by Stanislav Lem.

And that’s about the best summary I can give here: if you’d like to listen to the soundtrack to a silent movie by Lang based on a novel by Lem, then you need to get this album! And if you don’t know Lang or Lem, simply get the album anyway, because afterwards, you’ll want to check out Lang and Lem. So how much is this album? It’s pay-what-you-want-including-free, but take my suggestion – “free” shouldn’t be the option you choose. This album simply deserves more – but mainly your attention.

Hugely recommended!

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