The Architect is the debut album by a new project called eMolecule which is made up of Simon Collins and Kelly Nordstrom, who most notably worked together in Sound of Contact on their sole but highly regarded 2013 album Dimensionaut. This new release is a classic ‘Good vs. Evil’ story involving a spiritual transformation for someone in the last two weeks of their life, portrayed in very sharp and modern electronic and rock sounds. The album is characterised by remarkable sound design but also intertwined within its story Collins and Nordstrom have used this concept to examine their own lives with honesty.
The roots of this project date back to Simon Collins’ most recent solo album, 2020’s Becoming Human, which also has some parallels in terms of the feel and theme of some of this new music. Whilst Kelly Nordstrom was working on that album with Collins he was also working rather obsessively on an early demo of his own idea which later became the opening eMolecule piece, which he then shelved. More recently the plan was for Nordstrom to meet up with Collins again to begin work on Simon’s next solo album, but they felt that there was great potential in the sound and concept of the eMolecule demo and they decided to develop that into a new project. They worked for quite a while shaping the concept and then set about writing more music for the album. It is a peculiar concept focusing on what Collins has described as a ‘psychopathic eugenicist’ who eventually finds out that he has two weeks left to live, and the spiritual awakening he undergoes as a result of that realisation. There is very much a sci-fi feel to the atmosphere of the music. Indeed, it feels like the soundtrack to a movie adaptation of a cyberpunk novel like Neuromancer by William Gibson, with the same intensity, density and enigmatic qualities.
The Architect starts with two blockbusting pieces that immediately grab you and plunge you into this alternative dystopian landscape. eMolecule is an arresting and impactful opening song, starting with buzzing, beeping synths, like some sort of video game, before Collins blasts in with some HUGE drum sounds whilst Nordstrom overlays an off-kilter guitar melody, which then opens out with subtle percussion and chiming guitars and synths over which Collins intones an echoing, looping robotic mantra. There is a sense of entering an alternative sinister and futuristic world full of shadows. This really is a stunning opener and we are plunged deeper into this realm with very heavy guitars and titanic drumming, which then suddenly subsides and we are left floating in a vacuum of floating guitar lines and strange synth sounds – all very impressionistic and nightmarish. In a recent interview Simon Collins explained that when making this album they ‘threw the formula book out’ and this stunning opening track does not really follow any formula, seemingly morphing spasmodically in all sorts of directions, but always returning to the central crunching theme. As an ‘overture’ for the album it certainly scoops out the inside of your brain and rewires it for the mind-bending journey to come.
The narrative of the album starts properly on the title track, The Architect, which hits you between the eyes right from the off with a driving, crunching riff as Nordstrom and Collins turn the power full on. Simon Collins sings with such clarity and character, clear above the maelstrom, including the eccentric phrasing of “I’m the Acid to your Alkaline”. The lyrics have the dark central character recalling disturbing things taught to him as a child by his father… no wonder he becomes the “elite globalist psychopath” described by Collins in a recent interview. Whilst Collins provides the great lead vocals, Kelly Nordstrom adds sufficient menace very well during the spoken word parts in a more restrained, eerie section – there are echoes of the ‘Provider’ character in the classic IQ concept album Subterranea. This more nebulous dream-like passage is ended with a gob-smacking recapitulation of the original theme with a pile driving fanfare of electric guitars, drums and an exhilarating keyboard fanfare.
In a welcome respite, the power and tempo decrease significantly on Prison Planet with ethereal keys and piano… the power gradually builds again but importantly this album skilfully balances shade and light. The album probably reaches its darkest point with the deeply sinister Mastermind which tinkles in menacingly like some sort of film music. Collins and Nordstrom have shared that this piece was formed from three different ideas which they developed into one piece of musical drama. Collins roams through this song with spasmodic, twitchy vocals full of anger and anxiety; the effect of the whole song is unsettling and nightmarish. Nordstrom has shared that this track “delves into the darkness surrounding the Architect’s rise to power over the masses. Propaganda and protest paves the way for planetary chaos.”
Mastermind also showcases the tremendous sound design from Collins and Nordstrom – it just sounds cavernous, multi-layered and totally absorbing. Dosed follows with another crunching guitar riff and wall of sound… and part of me did wonder at this point whether it was all getting rather too much (probably just showing my age!). However, I spoke too soon because the album and narrative of The Architect takes a very different direction in the pivotal The Turn.
The Turn is literally the turning point when ‘The Architect’ comes to a realisation about his life and gradually becomes spiritually transformed. This theme of Redemption is threaded through a very different second half to the album. Collins and Nordstrom have shared that The Turn started out as an improvisation which they developed, and Nordstrom peeled out his guitar solos on the spot without previously writing them. Such spontaneity and intuition adds to the piece. After the tsunami of sound which characterises the first half of the album, there is a real sense of relief with a calming, repetitive piano melody with a synth backing and subtle guitars. The Turn slowly builds like storm clouds and then drums crash like waves before the piece suddenly recedes again briefly… but then an enormous chopping guitar riff and vocals verging on (but thankfully not quite!) growling metal twist this piece in a complete left turn.
The latter half of the album is a rather different proposition, filled with more light and melody, particularly the penultimate My You, which is much more restrained with a contemplative, reflective chiming melody, topped off with a soulful guitar solo finale from Nordstrom – it’s quite beautiful. One of the highlights of the album is the resplendent Awaken (no, nothing to do with the Yes classic!). Awaken has a dreamy feel with an earworm melody. The quality of Simon Collins’ vocals shines through in this resplendent song, perhaps the only song in which we can hear the similarity Simon has vocally with his illustrious drummer/vocalist father, but Simon has his own distinctive voice.
Collins and Nordstrom have reflected that whilst this is a concept album it did impel them to look inwardly at themselves. As Simon recently said in an interview with Ray Shasho, “I’ve been through some shit”, including addiction, which he wanted to get off his chest. It has been a real struggle for him in recent years but he does seem to have sorted himself out and, as he also shared in the same interview, he needed to work it out spiritually and learn “how to love myself again… properly.” In the context of such life experiences, it is easy to see how the lyrics to songs like Awaken would have a much deeper personal resonance for Collins than just lyrics for a song:
I know I can’t stop all the pain, but I will learn to love again, I will learn to love again
I know there’s no way out, Just go within when you’re without, You will Awaken.”
Collins stated to Prog Magazine that “during the creative process of making this record, I discovered an even deeper part of my creative self I never knew existed.” The richness and quality of these multi-layered songs would appear to support this assertion. Beyond Belief, in which the main protagonist realises that he has to leave his previous paradigms at the door and embrace truth, is a striking song with some echoes of the percussive, electronic explorations of Peter Gabriel in his Up era. The Universal is a melting pot of bewildering influences in a mighty cathedral of sound. The Faithless-type synth intro can probably be traced back to Collins early days as a rave DJ in Vancouver, but this moves way beyond those boundaries with a chorus of harmony vocals over banks of guitars. Nordstrom swoops in with some intricately high-pitched eastern style psychedelic guitar lines over some Earthquake drumming – the whole thing just sounds IMMENSE! The album finishes with The Moment of Truth, commencing with a simple piano melody under stark vocals underlining the realisation and spiritual awakening for ‘The Architect’, but this review will not reveal the final outcome – you will have to listen to the album.
With The Architect, eMolecule have produced a musical evocation of a great cyberpunk novel. It’s a remarkable debut album, fusing a variety of influences and styles with impeccably crisp production, consummate musicianship and imaginative, immersive sound design. Kelly Nordstrom and Simon Collins have formed a potent partnership to realise their fresh, original and captivating musical visions. It will be fascinating to see where they go next with this project.
01. eMolecule (10:43)
02. The Architect (6:05)
03. Prison Planet (4:58)
04. Mastermind (8:39)
05. Dosed (5:07)
06. The Turn (5:56)
07. Awaken (5:09)
08. Beyond Belief (4:47)
09. The Universal (6:03)
10. My You (5:27)
11. Moment of Truth (6:56)
Total Time – 69:50
Simon Collins – Vocals, Drums, Keyboards, Sound Design, Programming
Kelly Nordstrom – Guitars, Bass, Vocals, Keyboards, Sound Design, Programming
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Countries of Origin: U.K. & Canada
Date of Release: 10th February 2023