L.A. Priest – Gene Album Review

Domino Recording Co. – 2020

Sam Eastgate aka Sam Dust aka LA Priest returns after nearly 5 years with the follow up to the genre bending, critically acclaimed ‘Inji’, which saw Eastgate blend elements of Pop, Electronic and Jazz music to create a truly unique sound. Since then Eastgate has been stayed fairly underground but in 2016 did collaborate with the king of genre bending himself, Connan Mockasin for their ‘Soft Hair’ project. Now Eastgate returns with another batch of electronic infused pop, jazz and folk endeavours. The center-piece of the album is an electronic drum machine named ‘GENE’, from which the album name derives, that Eastgate designed and built fully on his own (You can try a virtual version of it here) due to frustration over the limitations of other drum machines.

Theres a certain mystique about this album, through its psychedelic landscapes it never settles on one movement or idea, instead it constantly shifts and glides between the weird and wonderful. Staying true to Eastgate’s style of genre-blending, there’s influences from all over the spectrum. There’s the pop melody’s of ‘What Moves’, the freeform jazz interlude of ‘Black Smoke’ and even elements of folk on ‘Open My Eyes’. What ties all these sounds together is Eastgate’s classic woozy psychedelic textures; be it through heavily phased guitars or glistening synthesisers. As the album progresses these sounds become familiar and connected yet constantly shifting, with tracks flowing seamlessly into one another. Like ‘Peace Lily’ which acts as the instrumental progression from ‘What Moves’, keeping the same beat and chorus heavy guitars but instead takes the sound into a more funky landscape, slowly adding some groovy synth bass lines. The connections don’t just end at the instrumentation, because Eastgate’s voice throughout is consistently vibrant and he shows off his incredible range; from the high falsetto of ‘What Do You See’ to the flowing polyrhythm of opener ‘Beginning’.

Eastgate excels at the psych pop ballad and there’s some stand out examples of those sown throughout. The track ‘What Moves’ has a flowing chorus melody that’ll be spinning around your head for days. It’s beat is simple but driving and the phaser heavy guitar allows the sound to float around the free-forming landscape. And the vocal melodies ‘Beginning’ are so hypnotic that they could easily carry you away to sleep. But Eastgate also knows how to create a harsher and more experimental soundscape, like on the track ‘Monochrome’. Featuring some heavy tribal drums and distant rain sounds that morph into the electronic beats and dirty synth lines that build to a truly eerie soundscape.

The production and instrumentation of this album follows on from ‘Inji’ in that it only uses what it needs to, keeping the minimalistic sound of closed in sounds throughout. As promised the clicks and pops of GENE are present throughout, providing as a constant within each song. Not that the palette strays too far from the phaser guitar or synth bass, but even as more experimental sounds are introduced like in the acid trip induced ‘Kissing Of The Weeds’ the glitchy beat patterns remain sustained. It’s been said of Eastgate the he “lives an analogue life, not even having a phone” and this certainly comes through as every sound is raw and untampered, almost like you’re sat in the studio watching Eastgate slowly add the layers to each song.

For all the layered harmonies and intricate textures the moment that lets this down is the ending track ‘Ain’t No Love Affair’ which starts with glitchy breathes of “Ain’t no love affair”, western guitars and wailing synths. It then slowly descends into some really loose melodies and vague synth lines until everything fades out, almost as if the albums giving up. After putting so much detail into the rest of the album it just feels like a bit of an underwhelming ending.

A long time coming, and worth the long wait. There’s so many layers of intricacy to this album it will demand repeat listens to try and unpack it all and hear every shifting sound. Eastgate has further solidified his place as a master of psych-pop and everything in between, and enhanced his technical ability within the studio.

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