Silence_castor, 'Portals' | Album Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Silence_castor, 'Portals'

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Silence_castor, Portals - COURTESY
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(Self-released, digital)

Silence_castor's YouTube page displays dozens of demo videos featuring the electronic artist's synth collection. The dazzling array of colorful boxes is a garden of tech. Knobs and buttons sprout up from the units like spring buds. Twisting, rainbow-hued wires connect one piece to another like roots and vines.

Silence_castor, aka graphic designer Nathan Hicks, is prolific, having released many singles and EPs in the past few years. Dropping free-flowing, emotive lyrics over a shifting patchwork of glitchy synths and beats, the South Burlington artist writes songs that, at their core, are as experimental as the manner in which he brings them to life. His new mini LP, Portals, is a conceptual dive into the life cycle, beginning with fetal heartbeats on opener "Birth" and concluding with imposing, hellacious synths on final track "Death."

What passes between these cuts is, presumably, a life. But it's not clear whether it's a literal human life or the life of a concept, state of mind or relationship. Perhaps it's all of these things — or none of them.

Hicks and guest vocalist Danielle Ferrara verbalize only sparingly, as on "Eyes," which sounds like a distress call from the cockpit of a glittering spacecraft, and "Projection," a woozy, atmospheric piece. These transmissions are like high art, begging interpretation and resisting meaning.

"And she's closing her lids / I see the forest downed / I see the world spin round," Hicks sings on "Eyes." This final string of words, which follows his reaction to "another miracle of light," becomes a smear, its lingering echo transformed into a stain of sound. The emotional information in how these words are delivered, and how they dissolve into the composition, is more prominent than their literal meaning.

Hicks' instrumental work dominates Portals. "Sleep" and "Windows," two of the record's most humble pieces, are finely appointed works of hushed blips and impressionistic tones. They stabilize the album's center point in preparation for the darkness that follows.

"Drugs" daunts the listener with sinister synths and a menacing beat that ticks like a clock counting down to certain doom. The song intensifies as it progresses, working its various synth elements into a low-key fugue.

"Death," in all of its demonic glory, simmers with flickering beats and a synth that sounds like it emanates from a monster's belly. Brassy blasts of sound crescendo and decrescendo atop a plodding bass line, ending the record with a white-knuckle finale.

Hicks makes good use of his impressive collection of musical toys on Portals. He excels at atmosphere, creating worlds both relaxing and tense, all of which are a pleasure to visit.

Portals is available at silencecastor.bandcamp.com.