- Ebn Ezra, Pax Romana
(Cadent Records, digital download)
The Pax Romana, or "Roman peace," was an extended period of relative civility in the otherwise violent and unceasing expansion of the Roman Empire. With that in mind, Ebn Ezra's debut album, Pax Romana, creates a similar respite. (Is this because we're at the end of our own Pax Americana? Was that ever a thing?) Its 14 tracks of gorgeous, ambient synth-pop are packed with lush, '80s R&B overtones and unambiguous, heart-on-sleeve proclamations of love.
Real name Ethan Wells, the Burlington-based 23-year-old composer/producer releases music through his own imprint, Cadent Records, which specializes in "atavistic electronic music." Though it's hard to equate an album made entirely of synthetic sounds with something ancient or ancestral, Wells' debut has an air of ceremony and reverence that makes it feel rooted in the old world. With tendencies toward pastoral, atmospheric textures, Pax Romana feels like a glistening, futuristic book of sonnets. Or maybe a collection of electronic, pagan hymns. Either way, it's simply delightful.
Wells, who is entirely self-taught as a musician and producer, has a penchant for warm, analog synthesizers. He's fond of bulbous bells, celestial harp and haunting oboe — all of which are made with MIDI instruments. His vocals flutter under heavy layers of Auto-Tune. He shares the hallmarks of many like-minded artists: the earnestness of Sweden's New Age/world-pop duo jj; the dreaminess of Brian Eno's ambient works; the tropical tones of Canadian production duo Southern Shores; and, of course, the matron of New Age music, Enya.
At times, Wells presents himself like an android that's recently gained consciousness, blurring the line between his humanity and technological influences. On the title track, he sings, "While you were sleeping / I was reloading." On "Morphing & Shifting," he pledges to his lover, "If you were to ask me to change ... I would morph for you ... teleporting, shape-shifting."
He reinvents doo-wop for the digital age on "Gimme Back My Baby." Its bass line is unmistakably reminiscent of Ben E. King's "Stand By Me," albeit truncated and decelerated. You can picture a lovelorn teen sipping a milkshake in some kind of cybernetic malt shop as he sings, "But then my baby left me / Walked right out on me."
The album's epic centerpiece is "The Boy Who Loves You," an airy, seven-minute plea for love and affection. Its glossy electric piano, marimba and crisp clave pops recall the glory of '80s-era Whitney Houston.
Pax Romana is an essential album for lovers of romantic, meditative electronica. As daily life continues to unravel at an unprecedented speed, Wells successfully fabricates a cozy, inviting interlude far away from the world's endless struggles.
Pax Romana is available at ebnezra.bandcamp.com.