By: Jamie Reysen
Electro duo Henry Allen and Preston Walker – better known as Virtual Boy – joined forces while studying at Chapman University’s Conservatory of Music under legendary producer Steve Nalepa, and they quickly caught the attention of dance music enthusiasts beyond the classroom. When Allen and Walker released their coursework as an EP in 2009, their tracks drew praise from big shots like Bassnectar, as well as Mary Anne Hobbs, who featured their song, “Lost Treasure,” on her BBC Radio 1 show.
After three successful EPs, the recent graduates are slated to release their debut, full-length album Feb. 7 via Alpha Pup Records. The self-titled album will send listeners on a journey across intricate soundscapes, characterized by a blend of instrumental arrangements and digital beats.
What sets Virtual Boy’s catalog apart is the fusion of classical training with electronic experimentation. Songs like “Sandias” and “Chariot” wordlessly tell stories, in a RATATAT-meets-Mozart kind of way. On “Viking,” one of the album’s standout tracks, haunting string sections paint scenes of a dangerous, seafaring odyssey.
Other songs take a more familiar rock-and-roll approach. Virtual Boy’s first two tracks, “Motion Control” and “Go Johnny, Yeah,” kick things into high gear with distorted guitar riffs and purposeful drum beats that will amp fans up, whether they’re at home or on the dance floor.
These first two songs also introduce listeners to a digital protagonist of sorts, who makes appearances throughout the album. Though it’s just Walker singing into a vocoder, the manipulated voice seems to take on a persona of its own as it croons lyrics that are robotic in sound yet relatable in nature – particularly on “Empty Place” and debut single “Memory of a Ghost.”
Virtual Boy’s upcoming release is the sort of album that should be played several times in its entirety; with every listen, something new jumped out at me from within their complex, layered tracks.
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