We Are Virtual (2015) – Criticism/Review

I’ve decided that for the first album I’m going to look at, I’m going to take a closer peek into Xilent’s debut album “We Are Virtual”, released May 17th, 2015. Since I’m a huge fan of Xilent, following his work since 2012 or so, I thought it’d be appropriate to choose this album over Kauf’s album Regrowth, released last month. I’m going to look at every song on the album and give my rankings. So let’s get into it.

The album is up for free listening on Xilent’s official YouTube page here.

It’s a 15 track concept album all themed around the idea that the title of the album resonates with. “We Are Virtual”. It’s a journey from Connect to Disconnect, and all the more sensible seeing as this is an electronic music album.

The first track, Connect, comes with rising tones not dissimilar to the feeling of summiting a mountain. It’s powerful, triumphant, and serves as a nice hot open to the next song. On its own, it’s definitely a little weak to be put on its own level. You wouldn’t put this song on repeat and listen to it over and over again like you could other songs on this album. Connect shows off the setup Xilent works wonders with, in setting up the entire album’s expectations. We even hear a countdown that anchors in newstations would expect to hear before the cameras begin broadcasting. It fades from a nice melody into the next track.

Revolution. Revolution is much more abrasive. The intro is a 4-set electronic beat that drops off into a build up to a drop. “We are the ones you cannot see” is a vocal sample repeated throughout. These trail into a wonderful drop that I would again describe as triumphant. It just makes you feel good. The progression into higher pitches makes this song have a very “I can do this” feel to it. The secondary drop after the breakdown, where a vocal for the single word “Revolution” gives us a hint as to what later tracks would sound like. The drum breakdowns and supersaws are all very much Xilent’s calling card, and they are used to a pretty restrained effect here. Not like some tracks later in the album, but they each have their charm.

Shadow Of You is the next song on the block. Starting with heavy synths and starting out chords that lead into a very strange song. Each verse has a very fast set up and breakdown. Like there isn’t one single peak in the entire song, but there are about 3 or 4 moments where the sounds rise to a very very sudden peak and then the melody is taken over by irregular electro. Once again we hear the title of the song spoken as a vocal track, and distorted heavily throughout. Compared to all the other songs on the album, I’d say this one is lower-tier.

Animation is the next song, and the 2nd single to be released before the album itself came out. You looking for drum and bass? This is the song you’re looking for. The transition from Shadow Of You to Animation is one of the best on the album, and Animation picks up the pace from the moment it’s introduced. This is the point where the album takes off. The beats per minute are much higher the tracks before it, and some vocal work by Diamond Eyes keep the fire burning in this track as long as it’s being played. Something about driving on the freeway with this blasting is so satisfying. I would compare it to the impact that Choose Me I had when it came out back in 2012, though Choose Me I still has the crown when it comes to the melody and progression. I’d say Animation is a close second when it comes to Xilent’s D&B performances.

To The Future is the 5th song, and I have to admit this one took a while to grow on me. There’s something very basic and primal about its opening all the way to the drop where the line “Take me to the future” There’s a background bass that echoes the coming drop, and then delivers with a muffled explosion of a chorus. This breaks down into slightly more complex and once again rising with a sort of triumphant air, like you’re surfing a growing hurricane and being picked up into the storm to do tricks. That’s what the primary and secondary sub-drops in To The Future feel like. Unlike Animation, this one is very much pulled back, to a slower BPM of Revolution even. All the momentum that Animation gave us is now tailing off as an afterburner, and the second major drop slowly burns up in the atmosphere until all of the elements of the song are in pieces. It’s not my favorite from the album, but it is right behind Animation.

Trance-Position is next up, and probably the weakest track in the group. It opens up with sounds of the ocean, and at about 41 seconds in, the bridge to the next song has already begun. This song doesn’t feel like much but a transitory track, and that’s okay, but even listening to all of these now, I couldn’t find myself picking this one out of the album to listen to by itself. There’s probably a deeper message to it that I’m missing.

This Life was the song in We Are Virtual that I was looking forward to when the teaser was released. Sitting in my high school class that let us have laptops out, I watched the beat to This Life more times than I could count, on repeat, just this 8 second sound byte. This one is up there, definitely upper tier on the album, but I have a nitpick. The drop is great, the first sub-drop is great when some snares are added, but Xilent has a tendency to add in incredible irregularities to his songs. To me, this is a high-risk/high-reward behavior. Not to say that is a bad thing, but the drop on This Life is incredible. There’s a breakdown soon after than I can’t get behind, really. When the tempo ups thanks to the addition of more drum. The second overall drop is great, though, it’s got the tune and the vibe that the beginning carries, and throughout the whole thing Vicky Fee’s vocal work stitches it together.

Infinity was the first single to be released from this album, way back in 2013 as well. I’ll be reviewing that version since the version in this album has the transitions. Infinity has a good message behind it. The intro vocals are, I think, masterfully executed. And this was another track that had to really grow on me, because of the Xilent irregularities present. Infinity’s drop can be classified as anti-trap, in that it’s very trap-like, but instead of being so dreadfully unsatisfying Infinity actually makes effective use of amazingly hard-hitting base. The weird part is the chorus sounds like it’s always trying to interrupt itself. Sometimes when you listen to his music, he’ll throw in a kick here a note there and it’ll all be just perfectly off that it’ll catch you off guard. One-two three foooouuuur, in very deep tones, is how the beat goes in Infinity, and it makes you accustomed to it over the course of the song. Not the one two three four that normal tracks would have you used to. This one is up there in the higher level, but I have to be in the right mood for it.

Falling Apart was released as an EP before We Are Virtual, as parts I and II. This song blends the two together, for a first drop of a slower more serious kind and a second drop of a more frantic variety. Grimm’s vocals tell the story of a relationship perhaps falling apart, or a life crumbling. The sounds are slightly deeper than the rest of the ones in the track, and I think that points to its more serious content. The thing is, I’d rather turn to one version on the EP rather than the two blended together. On long drives when I throw this album’s continuous version on I don’t mind it, but when I’m scrolling through iTunes I look for Falling Apart I or Falling Apart II. I’d call this one of the more mid-levels on this album, and I’ll explain why later.

Chemical with vocals by Five Knives is the 10th song, and Xilent has done a remix of Five Knives’ The Rising before, so I’m assuming they’re familiar enough with each other’s musical style. This song has a lot of laser-y sounds that Knife Party’s Destroy Them With Lasers popularized, making up most of the primary chorus, which isn’t my favorite choice. The vocals describe electricity and breaking apart, circuit boards and malleability of the speaker. The second chorus is I think where the power of the song is at. “Here we go, here we go, here we go, it’s chemical”.

Is There Time. For a very long time I avoided this song because the primary chorus sounded very 2010’s dubsteppy to me at first impression. Then while listening to the continuous mix, I heard the build up from Chemical into Is There Time. The once upbeat, high pitched air descending into a pit of eerie growling and ticking clocks. It took me for a spin the first time I heard it, and the build up of ticking with the rise into the drop is a concept I haven’t seen executed as well. “Standby”, the lead into the drop says, and then we’re introduced to world of glitchy chords and a guitar riff thrown in the mix. This song is definitely in a league of its own when it comes to electronic music as a whole, since it’s got nearly everything you need. I keep using the word ‘triumph’ to describe some of the sounds in this album, but I think it’s apt. Is There Time makes me want to get up and do something. It makes me want to action. It makes me want to count the seconds until I can do something heroic. This is in the upper echelon of music as a whole.

Hysteria immediately follows, and this is the second-strangest track on the whole album. Maybe I really don’t get it, but Hysteria includes a very maniacal drop and build ups. This is full irregularities on, although it initially seems grounded in normal patterns. It kind of vortexes around glitching as the song continues, until it’s a mess of sound and then it dies out to transition to the next track. I don’t know when I would ever listen to this song besides while fighting in my giant mech suit like I do so often. It doesn’t seem like any situation I’m in ever fits this track. No mood has ever seemed ready to receive it as it is, so maybe I just don’t like it. Or it will take some time for it to grow on me.

Vital is 13th on the board, and this is one I was drawn to after listening to This Life and getting my fill of it. It’s got a very nice and rather peaceful first build-up into a hectic drop, where I think the Xilent irregularities are on point. My first impression of Infinity wasn’t great because of the way his irregularities manifested, but that’s exactly what I liked when I first listened to Vital. The irregularities make sense, and the mid-point breakdown gives me a sense of achievement. Like something great is happening. This song has a very good background, and I tie it into This Life specifically because the sounds are so similar. Vital is a great song for messing with your own expectations and being pleasantly surprised by what you really pick up on.

The Place was the 3rd single to be released in the run up to We Are Virtual. This song sets up the ethereal noise from the beginning, and that’s what the theme is. The Place is graced by Sue Gerger, and her vocals tell a tale of being satisfied in your place. The Place you got to by living and making your choices. “Till I reach a place where I belong”. Almost like Xilent’s earlier Gravity, the drop is assaulting and oppressive in the best ways. It approaches the intensity of Revolution while maintaining the balance of irregularity of Vital. In comparison, those two songs seem like prototypes of The Place, with their fundamental ideas blended together. I enjoy the former two more, however, as I prefer to listen to the fundamentals instead of their combined versions. Something about the raw, singular idea in a song or work of art piques my interest more, personally.

Disconnect sets us off as the 15th track. “We Are Virtual”, it says, as it fades to white noise and finally cuts out.

Overall, I don’t think this album is a collection of Xilent’s strongest work up until that time, but there’s something in it for everyone. It tackles the tastes of anyone in the electronic music genre, and doesn’t let up. It’s the story of how quantifiable humans really are, on the smallest of scales. We Are Virtual. I can only hope my first showing as a poet is as powerful.

Power rankings from least favorite to most favorite:

1: Hysteria
2. Trance-Position
3. Disconnect
4. Shadow of You
5. Falling Apart
6. Chemical
7. This Life
8. Connect
9. The Place
10. Vital
11. Infinity
12. Revolution
13. To The Future
14. Animation
15. Is There Time

Is There Time takes the cake for me, since it’s perfectly predictable, with enough little knocks spread along the way to keep it fresh every time I listen to it. If this puts it into any perspective, two of my favorite Xilent songs of all time are Beyond, from the Ultrafunk EP, and Breakage, from the Out of Body EP.

 

That being said, I am absolutely hungry for more. Your System EP and three singles in two years isn’t exactly gonna tide me over. I’m very much looking forward to seeing Xilent’s next outing, and am excited for every new unexpected twist and turn I might be taken on. I’ve loved his stuff since I heard Evolutions Per Minute, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.

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