ovel 23’s second full length, Memories of Childhood for Advanced Imagination, was a Boards of Canada-esque offshoot, mining the same territory of childlike melodies and naïve glee at the ability to evoke certain memories with a certain bank of synthesizer tone. By the end of the eight tracks, it masterfully ran through simplistic programming and melodic constructions to provide a nice addendum in the interim period between Boards’ Music Has the Right and Geogaddi. There were some important differences, however. It was obvious, upon repeat listens, that Novel’s tracks were simply not as complex as the Scottish duo, reusing some of the same sounds even within the confines of only eight compositions. Additionally, the songs followed a certain pattern that became nearly a well worn cliché by the end of the proceedings.
With this, Novel 23 (Roman Belousov)’s third disc, the same problems are apparent, while the same strengths remain. Belousov is content to use the same equipment, Soviet-era synthesizers, to provide the melodic basis for his compositions. While these have a distinctively different sound to them than most European and American Casio-based synthesizers, the effect over time becomes familiarity. Familiarity breeds contempt, over time. And this is exactly the effect that is bred over ten tracks and 45 minutes. It has the same effect as a bad guitarist using the same guitar tone over and over again. When the riff is good enough, it doesn’t bother. When the song doesn’t have a hook—and the instrument sounds frustratingly the same, problems emerge.
Luckily, Belousov does have a gifted ear for melodies that are both inventive and catchy. “Viaduc”, for example, rides the same hook for much of its length, garnishing it with minimal backing help (most notably a four note repeated bass). Belousov introduces two different versions of the main melody, only to place them on top of one another near the song’s end, providing the listener with the pay off. It’s both simple and contrived, Belousov’s main weaknesses as a songwriter, but the melody and interaction are strong enough to override this issue in most cases. In a few isolated incidents, however, the structure becomes so obvious as to detract from the end product, which is in the end comes out as tightly constructed instrumental melodic IDM, sounding somewhere in between Freescha and Isan.
On only one track, “Lucarne”, is the structure upset—it being a short interlude breaking up the monotony of Architectural Effects’ blueprint. Overall, though, the blueprint is one that Belousov follows to its eventual end, allowing every substantial effort to follow along blindly to his perceived songwriting procedure. And while the name of the album is meant to represent Belousov’s reaction to architecture, the album ends up being perhaps his ode to it. A slave to the blueprint, at whatever cost. In most cases, the structures are infallible. But the city that he is building looks mighty similar.