Proto Droids – Sequential Dreams

[woe, 2021]

Proto Droids is the side project for Correlations’ main synthesist, Neil Hale. If you haven’t yet heard of him, I highly suggest picking up any of the releases under that moniker. This album, however, is in my blood. I can’t get enough of it. It’s on my short list for album of the year, and I won’t likely stop listening for a long while to come. Listening to it is like mainlining 80s Horror VHS soundtrack nostalgia. And for any person who had the luxury of living through that era, and who still enjoys a good spook flick, it’s these types of things that stick most with you. Every single song on this album is a keeper.

“Trophy Hunter”‘s warbly, echoey arpeggiator kicks the album off, and immediately the listener knows what’s in store. The synths have a warm, rounded nature to them. They sound at times as though they’ve weathered through years on dusty shelves. Slightly ominous, but incredibly alluring, it plays like a title screen in an old cinema—the song wandering off in the interlude as though it were taking a quick trip through the woods at night, before coming back full circle. You can practically see the film grain and the title cards with their delicate jittering.

Hale employs tape manipulation throughout the album. It’s a clear ode to the warping of old movie tapes, with images of a bygone era filled with mom-and-pop VHS rental stores; towards the back is the infamous adults-only section. You kids stay out! And while Sequential Dreams is in clear homage to horror film’s golden years, it doesn’t hit the way you’d think it would. “Digits Dancing I” recalls those childhood-like moments in horror movies between the killings. A playful walk to school in the first act; the introduction of the lead character’s love interest; the iron-clad, life-long high school friendship between two adorable outcasts. The threat isn’t quite there yet, we’re still learning of the setting and its actors.

Then comes the first sign of trouble: “Veil.” Though not quite a frenzied bloodfest, it brings a sense that something lurks beneath the surface–that not all is quite right. This leads inexorably to “The Search,” a haunting, thumping chase scene straight out of a John Carpenter film. “You Got the Blood” continues this sequence.

Hale’s synth tones remain somewhat consistent throughout, further driving the notion that this is an album out of time, unearthed from a long-forgotten buried grade school time capsule.

And that is the fun of the album. Besides Hale’s extremely capable emotional stylings and preternatural knack for hitting on precisely the theme he’s aiming for, the joy is in the imagery this album constructs in the minds of the listeners. Furthermore, it isn’t precisely scripted. There are avenues left to be explored by the listener’s singular imagination. It’s this ability to tap into that aspect of the act of listening that makes this album so damn enjoyable to come back to over and over again. The tale grows. It morphs and changes organically the more listens one gives it. And it’s a tale I’ll be coming back to many times for the foreseeable future.

Listen to and purchase the digital album on Bandcamp. Those who missed out on the insanely cool cassette would be extremely lucky if Neil decided to do a third run.

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