A review by Jason Randall Smith
"I like to try and combine piano with strings and beats and vocals where I can get someone to sing for me. That's it really."
Take a trip over to RJ Chevalier's Facebook page and you will find the above statement staring back at you, serving as his biography. It's an incredibly humble statement from a musician that makes compositions that were made for Hollywood films, and strictly the blockbuster variety. Despite the fact that he has been producing his own music for less than five years, Chevalier has developed an astonishingly rich sound that's larger than life. To examine the depth of his work, one simply needs to listen to his latest album, Cinetronique. Its title is an ingenious blend of the words "cinematic," "electronic," and "unique," all of which can describe Chevalier's compositions, but fail to do them true justice.
When listening to his pieces, it's hard to imagine that such a full orchestral sound is coming from one person. Granted, technology has certainly made such a thing possible, but what separates Chevalier from other electronic music artists is that he has the ear of a classical music conductor. With influences that range from Massive Attack and Moby to Craig Armstrong and Hans Zimmer, he is able to bring different musical worlds together and allow them to speak the same language through his arrangements. "The Truth" opens Cinetronique with mournful piano melodies and sweeping strings before dropping a stark drum sequence into the mix. With bass and snare pads plotting out a harsh march, a hard-edged guitar follows suit. The piece gradually picks up steam as the guitar riffs turn more abrasive and the tympani rolls build tension. A chorus rises from the background and soars to the forefront as the rest of the instrumentation crashes and burns, returning to the piano's sullen soliloquy.
"Faceless" introduces a tempered techno backbeat into the symphonic formula. It's not an aggressive rhythm, but one that skitters underneath the string section, adding light pulses and tambourine shakes in its wake. Chevalier plays with dynamics throughout the album and this song is no different. He will pull the rug from under the listener's feet, suddenly stripping the elements away, leaving them to freefall in silence while he slowly builds the composition layer by layer. "Cipher" employs this same strategy, starting with cascading piano patterns and adding somber strings. Once at full capacity, a guitar shreds through the score, leaving gaping wounds for dub effects to stitch together. Even the short and sweet "Beyond Alpha" feels like a full orchestra, its strings tugging at the listener's heart with each note that's held.
Although Cinetronique is a predominately instrumental album, a pair of songs are saved for the bittersweet lyrics and voice of Tara Minton. She is every bit as captivating as the arrangements that surround her on "Last Summer," consisting of a tranquil drum sequence and a wall of stringed accompaniment. Minton is angelic yet strong on "Do What You Do," her voice a poised presence in the midst of staccato keyboard outlines and chilled bass tones. Those two songs alone are enough to justify a full-length collaboration, but Chevalier is more than capable of carrying an album on his own. "Dichotomy" displays the full range of his abilities in one song, moving from a stirring piano solo to a piece that explodes with dramatic strings, choral punctuations, and featherweight breaks. Cinetronique works because RJ Chevalier understands the importance of musical movements to drive the action when words are absent. This is an album that will keep listeners riveted from beginning to end. If there's any justice in this world, Chevalier will have a line of directors beating down his door to have his work complete their next motion picture.