"blew my socks off" !!
Neon in the Black
Neon in the Black is yet another example (in my career, I figure this at the least the tenth) of the maxim “quality, not quantity.” While the CD is only thirty minutes long, the songs contained on this “maxi-EP” are so damn appealing that it’s considerably better than a lot of full-length albums I’ve heard in my time as a reviewer. The recording is almost ridiculously well-engineered – seriously, this sounds like a major label release. The paper sleeve that the album arrived in, while adorned with excellent artwork and graphics, gives no hint of the sophisticated and accomplished music within the cardboard container. I can’t remember the last time I was so surprised by the sheer quality of a recording which came from seemingly out of nowhere and was so modestly packaged.
Since there are almost no liner notes and the artist’s CDBaby page is bereft of anything but sparse details, any attempt at detailed analysis of, e.g. instrumentation, on my part would be fraught with possible errors. I imagine that Petersen is, primarily, a keyboard player (the album features a lot of piano in addition to electronic keyboards). I also assume that some or most of the other instruments I hear on Neon in the Black are sampled, although it’s anyone’s guess about this. However, with music this fantastic, I frankly don’t give a damn.
One of the more interesting aspects to the album is the fact that tracks 3 through 5 are each only one minute long! Other songs range from three-and-a half to five-and-a half minutes in duration. The opening cut, “Andalusian Summer,” starts things off in fine fashion with lush orchestral strings, Spanish-style guitar, and a strong dose of romantic nostalgia, all done up in perfect production. The three short tracks are somewhat abstract in nature, although, rest assured, they’re also entirely accessible. “Girl Trapped in House” is followed by “Flying” and then by “Welcome.” I suspect the artist has a scheme in mind for these three short vignettes and that perhaps they form a kind of musical triptych of sorts.
The CD really hits its real stride with the fifth song, “Along the River Seine” a laid-back yet funky blend of jazz and chill-out with unbelievably catchy beats, a mellow lead synth line, subtle jazzy runs on piano and lush strings underneath it all. This is simply a killer track and one of the best songs of the past year, period. Right after it is another great selection, “Subway Strut,” and it may be even better than “…Seine.” The pulsing electronic rhythms, superb piano, cool Fender Rhodes-like tones, and overall funky nature of the song remind of a blend of Peter Blake and Michael Whalen’s jazzier side. Tasty stuff indeed!
The artist also deftly handles quieter more subdued pieces too, such as the mellow “Montauk, Walking with My Father” which ambles along with its blend of chilled beats and lilting melody. “Interplanetary Traveler” mixes jazz trumpet with spacy synths galore and propulsive trap kit drums and it works like a charm, aglow with starlight and driven with a sense of urgency by the rhythms and synths. “Peace, For Pat” concludes the CD with a sprightly but gentle new age jazz number, with delicious bell tones reverberating among piano and strings.
I’ve written many times that the real joy of being a music reviewer is the discovery of the unexpectedly delightful recording – one that astonishes even the jaded listener and makes one realize that there is still a lot of great music out there to be released. Neon in the Black is one such album and Eric Petersen is a highly talented artist who I can only hope will continue recording music. This CD blew my socks off and if you like highly accessible music that mashes together jazz, electronica and new age music, I can’t believe that you won’t be equally impressed.
Producer and Host
Wind and Wire
Minneapolis and St. Paul, MN