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Synth Album Review: "The Outlands: second degree" by Reed Reimer

Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.

Mat Kaminski

Mat Kaminski

Initial Impressions

Reed Reimer’s The Outlands: second degree is a tense, dark and powerful musical evocation of a journey through an incredibly dangerous world of flame and threat. It unfolds like the soundtrack to a cinematic video game and draws a vivid picture of a twisted world. The sounds that Reed Reimer uses are sometimes harsh and sometimes delicate but they all help delineate the atmosphere and emotion of the story in music.

One of the reasons why I was drawn to The Outlands: second degree is the brooding atmosphere that permeates it. All of the musical elements that embody shadow, threat and harshness contribute to a feeling of imminent danger as the music unfolds. I also enjoy the contrast provided by the delicate, tender segments of the album which are poignant against the darker backdrop.

Reed Reimer does a good job of combining an intriguing synth palette with interesting writing to create strong soundscapes on the album. The synths are varied and run the gamut from hang drum to sax. There are some synth tones that sparkle and others that have a guttural growl, but they are all intertwined in a cohesive way.

I also enjoy the auditory storytelling in The Outlands: second degree. Reed Reimer unfolds the twisted and emotional storyline created by his collaborator Ashley Webb. He uses intricate musical interactions that draw the listener into the story and guide us along using the emotional tenor and energy of the music to lay out the narrative.

My Favourite Tracks Analyzed

“Factory Looms” starts as hollow, deep sounds float in shadows and fragile chimes, wind blowing around them as they swirl quietly. Out of the mists, the chimes shimmer and a oscillating bass pulse with a reverberating quality shapes the track. I enjoy the mournful, elevated synth that flows out, full of pain, while the ominous sonic continues. Sax howls out along with a writhing, high line of sound.

Hard-hitting drums move with metallic percussion and the elevated synth has electric violin qualities as it climbs in a tense line while jagged-edged electric guitar growls and chimes add light. The sax roams and lets out emotive, hurt cries before the track fades out the distant chimes and an inchoate sonic rush, distorted and twisting.

Distant, echoing bells float out above a Stygian bass pulse that sustains and fades as "Currents" begins. A glittering, metallic synth adds its own echo in extending lines before a powerfully throbbing drum and bass beat comes in. Trembling, medium-high synth carries a melodic pattern that is full of nervousness and worry as it vibrates out in tremulous lines. I enjoy the taut, threatening atmosphere that this track creates.

The surging bass growl supports the melody while chimes add a feeling of distant threat as they sparkle coldly over the weight and energy below them. The muffled drums seethe a with feeling of power held in abeyance. The oscillating bass and drum pulse thuds into life again, muscled and aggressive, below the minor key, worried note pattern and gritty, distorted synths viscously twist to end on a demonic growl.

"Shedding Layers" kicks off with a repetitively hammering, expanding synth and a xylophone rippling out in quickly vibrating notes. Ominous synths rush, fade and rush again before the rapid drums tick in along with oscillating bass and cascading arpeggios. The drums and bass fly along while arpeggios arc out around them.

I enjoy the ghostly melodic pattern carried on the rising, twisting, elevated synth. The arpeggios add texture and more light as they dance along, sparkling in fast lines. The drums slam into the track with real weight and the bass punches. Another elevated synth calls out in a minor key pattern full of drifting loss above the rushing drums and deep bass. The track fades out on trembling xylophone.

The music box that opens “Breathe, Sorca” carries a fragile, aching melody as a static hiss crackles in the background. I am drawn to the feelings of grief and loss that fill the melody in this track. The music box fades and broken, glitchy notes reassemble pieces of the melody over the steady static hiss. A huge drum pulse moves in a slightly uneven pattern while shadowy bass growls low.

The beat underpins the static crackle, the spectral drift of the distant synths and the heavy drums. A steady and driving metallic drum sound comes in while the static distortion continues broken by aggressive bursts of guttural synth. Distant, tinny piano carries the melancholy of the music box melody as extended whorls of high synth knot together before falling silent over a grating sonic wash.

“Testing the Bounds” begins with a rapid rush of elevated synth that is joined by a chest-throbbing pulse of bass and a round, full hang drum sound. A thin, raised synth carries an oscillating, undulating pattern adds more tension to the music as the drum beat kicks and bursts. I enjoy the way that the airy hang drum doubles the delicate, gentle piano notes as they carrying a wandering and tragic melody.

The hollow, open hang drum floats along, distant and slow as the drums scud along and a harder edged pulse vibrates in and fades out. A digital, medium high chip sound carries a yearning, emotive melody that breaks into an arpeggiating pattern of hard-edged, digital-sounding notes as “Tendril Heart” starts out.

Void-deep bass snarls through and a driven, broken drum and bass beat stutters into the track. Waves of leaping, gruff synth sound flow as arpeggios whirl. The main melody returns, twisting on the elevated, digital sounding synth and singing out in sadness.

Buzzing, elevated chip sounds carry energetic arpeggiations while the drums stutter. Air sweeps through and distant arpeggios dance and whirl along with light chimes. I am drawn to the trembling ache expressed by the computerized sounding synth in this track.

Arpeggiating patterns vibrate in again and a dark voice says “game over” and growling guitar joins the digital sounds shifting above it. As the drums batter, the round chip sounds raging in a wild tide over the guitar and drum attack and we end on glitchy sound.

“On Track” comes into being as an engine starts and a wave of brightly shining synth flows along in a smoothly shifting pattern as drums lightly brush the track. Oscillating bass throbs in a steady line underneath the shifting synth and a classic, hard-hitting retro beat comes in.

Glassy chimes shimmer in an angular pattern and gruff, pipe-like synth carries an arpeggiating note pattern that wanders through the music. I enjoy the propulsive feeling that fills this track. There’s a break to a choppy, distorted sonic scramble as shiny synth moves over the strange scribbling sound. The solid drum and bass pulse re-establishes itself as a Baroque sounding synth line is carried on round, computerized sounding synth. The melodic line climbs and falls in intricate patterns over the heartbeat of drums and bass.

Distantly echoing string-like notes and broken shivers of elevated synth sound trip through the track as “Fire Inside” begins. Dense, cutting bass smashes in and fades as Greta Nisswandt’s aching, soft vocals emphasize the dark words of the song.

A nervous pattern of distant, elevated synth adds tension as the airy space around the music is full of echoes. I like how the massive, battering beat contrasts with the pain and darkness of the lyrics and Greta Nisswandt’s trembling voice. Deep strings churn and the beat trips and stutters while a rushing sound launches a glitching, cut up drum segment before the track ends.

Darkness fills this song’s lyrics. The narrator speaks of “the one who controls me, buried deep in my head. She says that because she can’t be consoled by them, she just wants them to leave her alone.

Our narrator talks about feeling a “burning desire” whose heat makes “discomfort extreme.” She talks about the song’s subject being a liar but adds that she can’t tell, it just seems that way. She adds “the sweat, it drips into my eyes. My vision blurs beyond belief.” All that she wants is relief from “fire dancing deep inside."

The narrator has her hand pushed into the flames by “them” as she adds “all the while I’m in control.” She wonders “where sits the blame” and questions if “they” know. An image of true horror emerges as she talks about smoke rising and her skin as it “boils, melting from my bones.” As she screams, she forgets “all I’ve known” as the fire still burns in her.

Conclusion

Reed Reimer’s The Outlands: second degree is an atmospheric journey through textured, evocative musical landscapes as we journey across the broken world that he creates through sound. I’m interested to hear what he’ll do next because I’m sure it’ll be interesting.

© 2021 Karl Magi

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