Michael Valentino is a U.S.-based electronic musical genius that borders on magnificent. At the very least, Dreams Of Escape attempts to enlighten listeners with a range of auditory impulses that sparkle with a futuristic presence in the vein of the instrumental works of Tangerine Dream, Enya, Michael Stearns, Robert Rich, Steve Reich, and Vangelis. Michael utilizes dark, as well as light moods of human existence with entrancing, ambient washes, stereophonic soundscapes, and electronic blurbs that are as majestic as they are beautiful.
“Dreams of Escape” opens with a washed out, symphonic sound with light reverberation and a film score-like appeal. The electronic melody wavers little throughout the entire song, but the song’s title connotes dreams as a form of escape. In this manner, a feeling of weightlessness and floating signals an appropriate summation of the sound. The entrancing appeal is also rather somber. However, the song does not contain any vocals or a drumbeat. The gentle, electronic swishes of “October Moon” move into a crystalline and electronic medley of melodic, yet slightly diffused tinny pulsations. The escalating electronic washes effortlessly wrap around the melodic, tinny sounds that are generally uplifting and not as somber as the previous song.
“Starboard” opens with a mix of crashing waves on shore and cackling sea birds. A few electronic washes bleed into the faded bird sounds and waves, before a distorted keyboard rhythm takes over. At times, the instrumental song is a bit suspenseful and always beautiful. The arrangements are carefully executed with a few gentle washes interspersed with the catchy melody that does not need drums or guitars to keep the beat. Perhaps the undulating and catchy melody, as well as the title, is characteristic of being at sea. In any case, Michael creates a pleasant journey that is quite uplifting and does not need to be rescued from the ocean’s undertow. Structurally, the song is similar to “October Moon,” but slightly more subdued as in a Thomas Newman film score.
“Haunted” is more of a piano-centric song with an ambient introduction and slightly tinny accompaniment that seems to match the piano playing. If the tinny accompaniment was not present, then this would seem more like a Ronan Hardiman composition. The echoes of the tinny sounds reverberate with the piano and electronic washes. Still, the music is void of vocals and drums, but that does not mean the music is any less worthy. “Rain” does not open with water sounds, as the title suggests. Instead, electronic washes and a few reverberating keyboard sounds play throughout the song. The slower, Enya-like melody could serve as a New Age anthem or film score hit, because all of the musical elements come together. “Dusk” is the darkest song with distorted organ or keyboard effects with electronic washes that seem to ebb and flow from beneath the Earth and then slowly rise to the surface as the sounds lighten up.
“Valley Of The Kings” is one live track that opens with a raucous applause before Michael plays a piano melody that is masterfully produced. However, the song deviates from the more electronic-focused songs on the rest of the album. Though, it allows the listeners to sample a live concert feel. “Mansion III” begins with a thunderstorm before it fades into a blurb-driven, upbeat, electronic tempo with ambient washes and echoes characteristic of some of the other songs.
Michael Valentino’s latest electronic and atmospheric release is full of ambient melodies, dark effects, and majestic soundscapes. The complete absence of vocals, guitar, and drums provides a format for a more richly textured and experimental album. Thankfully, Michael’s electronic effects did not stray too far into the world of boring piano music. Nevertheless, the only problem was most of the songs contained similar melodies. The progression and impact of the album’s content was diminished to a point, because of the lack of dissimilarities. However, Dreams Of Escape is still a good production of instrumental, New Age music.
Review by Matthew Forss - Inside World Music
Rating: 4 Stars (out of 5)
Innovative and mathematical are two words that describe the ambient music of Michael Valentino's latest album, Dreams of Escape. His striking compositions follow an intriguing formula that is both original and percussion-centric.
"October Moon" is a series of recursive percussive-like bells and hollow pipe synths that fan out during the song. The synths whistle and flail smoothly as they surround themselves with sky reaching ambient repetitive rings. "Sun Is Rising" peaks and troughs in volume with long synth notes held until the banging percussion breaks up each longer measure. The frenetic rhythms along with the keys illustrate a musical math that keeps the arrangement tight and disciplined, building up in new variations over the course of the song.
Another great example of Michael's mastery of percussive moods is the Irish folk-tinged "Starboard (Nautical Mix)." Sure to be a fan favorite, seagulls and ocean waves scour the beginning of the song along with a percussive heartbeat and staccato string section, which rings a beautiful Irish folk-like melody. Its crystalline production quality and benign arrangement make it one of the best tracks on the album. The bridge of the song has the melody moving up an octave and then reaching a plateau on that octave. It's that musical journey which is so innovative and gorgeous that will woo smartly ambient fans. The title song, "Dreams of Escape," also has a percussive stance but in a more subtle manner. It starts off with an enormous shadow of synth echoes and delicate percussive noises, as if a plane is awakened from its hangar. The short loop of measures has the unassuming and epic quality of background music for a television commercial or, better yet, a documentary.
Michael's showmanship swiftly arrives on Dreams of Escape with his live rendition of "Valley of the Kings." The intensity and depth of Michael's piano composition is potentially fatalistic in terms of his attention to detail. "Valley..." could easily be used for documentary film or cinema soundtracks. During some portions, the melody echoes traditional Jewish folk music, while other portions have a pop sensibility. The ebb and flow of tempo combined with his unabashed energetic musicianship would make this a surefire repeater for a follow-up live album or EP. More vengeful pianos ensue on "Past Has Gone (Sorrow's Mix)." With the same deliberate rage and drama as "Valley...," the blaring pianos along with a large dose of reverb and black-and-ivory retort, the notes shake and smack the listener in the ears. Michael's musical moods and styles will woo fans of Yanni; they will need no readjustment and will feel right at home.
Moods shift with "Dusk" and "Mansion III." The former is a dreary, cold and windy two minutes. The synths are somber and crestfallen. Choral layers add a somewhat infernal hue to the already downtrodden melody. "Mansion III" starts off with the patter of rain and thunder as the liquid laced synths dot the cinematic sweeps of orchestral flourishes. The song repeats itself several times and would make for a great loop as an intense scene in a drama movie or documentary. Rays of optimism also peer out from time to time on the record. "A Lullaby for Memories" is a string composition whose melody is sweet and rolling. The hopeful blend of strings and synthesizer is quaint, fulfilling and reaffirming. "Passage" is an additional example of bright light hope. The slow moving pipe organ march that gives the listener the sense of an ongoing and deliberate exodus. The heavenly choir voices (think Enya) like many of the other tracks on Dreams of Escape also contribute to the song's elevated mood.
Fans will be lulled and inspired, uplifted and earthbound after listening to Dreams of Escape. New age and ambient sound aficionados along the likes of Yanni and Enya should not miss this record.
Review by Michael Morgan - IndieSoupRunner.com
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)