Matthew J Van Howe — Legend of the Galactic Princess
High-definition audio makes texture more tangible to audiophiles and casual music lovers the same, but in an album like Legend of the Galactic Princess by Matthew J Van Howe, it might as well be an instrument alongside the synths or the lead vocal. Legend of the Galactic Princess invites us into an ultra-synthetic universe of melodicism and harmony of the coldest variety, but rather than following the path of a surreal drone record, it sticks with something a bit more vitality-laden and urgent in tempo. From the slow-churning “Her Greatest Loss” to “Jungles of Syroolya” and the potent “Reborn the Warrior,” this is an album that appeals to us not through organic substance, but the spirited design of its creator, eccentric as it admittedly would be.
The synthetic vocals in “Set Forth” and “Right the Wrong” have a surprising emotionality that I normally wouldn’t be expecting to hear in something as willingly plasticized as this record is, and it caught me off guard here to say the least. Buried beneath even the thickest band of futuristic indulgence in Legend of the Galactic Princess is a passion for both the medium and the muse that could bring the toughest of critics to their knees, and despite the packaging, I think this album’s most eclectic instances of emotional communication are also its heaviest and most feeling. Instrumental (“Waterfalls of Dymoora”) or lyrical (“Battle Cruiser”), Van Howe’s commentary in this disc is going to have an impact on you no matter what.
New wave influences can be felt in the title track, “Beneath the Dust,” “Across the Starry Sea” and “Awake from Thy Tomb” especially, but they’re surprisingly subtle given the obvious post-punk aesthetics framing the theme here. After several listening sessions, I realized there’s a lot more electropop and industrial rock in the bones of Legend of the Galactic Princess than I initially found, and they’re simply masked by the overwhelmingly electronic cosmetics that Van Howe utilizes more than liberally from one song to the next. He’s not a musical chameleon in this record — he’s an outright A.I., mimicking almost any sonic shape or model we could imagine just to suit the mood he’s trying to set in any given performance.
Matthew J Van Howe’s Legend of the Galactic Princess is ambitious to put it very mildly, and while it does have a lot of elaborate moments that made me raise an eyebrow more than once, it’s ultimately a pretty simple concept piece that doesn’t ask for us to step too far away from mainstream conventions to appreciate what it has to offer. I get the idea that Van Howe wanted to make an experimental record here, but what he might not have realized ahead of time is that his heart was so invested in the concept that it could never come off wholly removed from the pop simplicities that make any successful record accessible to the masses. This is a really listenable effort for how broad a brush it was painted with, and one that I’d rank among this artist’s finest works to date.