Two thousand twenty has seen plenty of amazing electronic releases thus far, but what I was not expecting was an electronic album by my favorite musician, Mariusz Duda. I received a message from him last week about this new album called “Lockdown Spaces”, and I immediately knew I would love it (you know how much I love electronic/ambient music). The album releases today, June 26th, via online streaming services and his Bandcamp page.
Mariusz is getting to the point where he needs no introduction. He is the lead singer and bassist for Poland’s Riverside, as well as the brains behind Lunatic Soul. You may also remember him as the vocalist in Meller Gołyźniak Duda. His expertise and artistry in creating truly remarkable music will hold up to any amount of doubt or questioning, that is certain. Mariusz is like a modern day Mike Oldfield, in my view, as he makes whatever music he wants, and he doesn’t feel the need to make the exact music his fans expect of him. That is exactly why I like his music so much.
Mariusz, in my 2019 interview with him, expressed his love for electronic music, such as Tangerine Dream and Vangelis. He also expressed his love for darker tones, such as with Dead Can Dance. Additionally, if you follow his Instagram page, you will notice that he loves video games. With “Lockdown Spaces”, all of these things converge into one seamless, engaging sound. This is dark, claustrophobic electronica. It is less cinematic, and more personal and even quirky. The music is melody forward, but not without textured loops, ambient noises, and a weighty atmosphere.
The music is clearly inspired by video game soundtracks (a huge influence in modern music, maybe more than many people realize), with touches of various influences from the legends of the progressive electronic genre, plus that dark, almost Gothic tone of DCD. Video game music is at the forefront, though, with bright flashes of sound, catchy little melodies, and something close to an 8-bit tone at times. This music feels slightly pixelated like that, and I love it. According to the press release, the music is meant to convey the feelings of being in this worldwide lockdown, and thus you will hear things like running water or even what sounds like whistling. It’s almost like a musical view of Mariusz’s daily life.
This is, of course, not the first time Mariusz has dabbled in electronic music. Piotr Grudziński (RIP) and Mariusz had wanted to create an entirely new project called Eye of the Soundscape, but with Piotr’s tragic passing, it turned into a new and amazing Riverside release, along with some bonus electronic tracks the band had been making through their entire existence. Electronica, then, is ingrained into Mariusz’s heart and hands, and so it should come as no surprise that he would release something like this, especially if you’ve been paying attention to the last couple Lunatic Soul albums.
“Lockdown Spaces” has nine tracks. Three of them are more like interludes or brief feelings. Those would be “Waiting”, “Silent Hall” (which Mariusz told me is an ode to Silent Hill), and the album closer “Screensaver”. All three are as engaging as any other track, but they are shorter and have less frills. One thing to note is that Mariusz does sing on this album, so you will hear some sparse lyrics and some harmonization, too. It, in my opinion, makes electronic music even better when Mariusz adds his fantastic voice to it.
Even though I don’t normally do this, I feel like talking about all six of the other tracks, because all of them are wonderful. “Isolated” is the opener, and it slowly fades in with a wonderful, atmospheric melody that is soon joined by a nice, dirty loop. It is all about ambiance here, and I tested it out last night in my car. It was dark and I had all my windows and my moon roof open, and I blasted this song. It was absolutely immense to hear it like that. The title track comes next, and is a quirkier song with some 90s sounds that for some reason remind me of the GoldenEye soundtrack. There is whistling and counting, and it is addictive. “Thought Invaders” is another great track: it feels like a savory slow burn, almost subversive and quiet in how it hooks you.
My favorite three tracks, and the tracks that feel like the collective centerpiece of the album, are “Bricks”, “Pixel Heart”, and “Unboxing Hope”. All three are brilliant. I immediately fell for “Bricks”, with its ambient noises of daily life, xylophone-style sounds, and its immersive arc that ends up in a vocal melody from Mariusz surrounded by so many amazing layers of beautiful, whirling light. “Pixel Heart” is a pure joy with its layers of loops and atmospheric touches. I love the way the music feels almost like it is floating about in Mariusz’s home, like a dense layer of introspective thought. Finally, “Unboxing Hope” might be the unsung hero of the album. It feels restless and cautious at first, but transitions into a vivid, vibrant melody in the second half that is accompanied by competing melodies that feel like they are rising from the floor. As the lyrics express, the song feels like a wish for the end of lockdown.
I am so excited that Mariusz is unleashing this side of himself. We heard it before in Riverside and Lunatic Soul, but this is 100% electronic music, and I know it is something he loves. He expressed that his solo albums would now probably be electronic in nature, though he will still release singles that encompass whatever genre he wishes. I, for one, am happy to see him dabbling in one of my favorite genres, as I think it takes great talent and an ear for beauty to make ambient/electronic music that is truly engaging, stimulating, and complex, rather than gimmicky or dull. This album is certainly and completely the former.
Find Mariusz Duda online:
I have been listening to this over and over since it came out, as I remain locked down in my house in Brooklyn by the pandemic. I love it and your review was spot on. It reminds me a bit at times of Trickfinger (John Frusciante’s electronic albums). Cheers!
I normally do not write reviews yet I feel the time has come to shed my 2 cents onto the table. In short, this record is banal. The whole album is about the pertinence of lockdown and frustration it causes us, supposedly posing as a high-rated album by both the host of this website and 2 reviews, I digress, it struck me as rather pretentious and unoriginal:
The entry was mediocre until I got the 2nd song – then it hit me: It is annoyingly childish. His failed attempts to try and do a catch-and-try with words frankly didn’t make any sense and didn’t strike my fancy, it was just soul-crushingly irritating.
He continued at repeating senseless epithets to catch the listener into a sort of hallucinogenic world full of repetitive irritating COVID 19 buzz words. Sorry to say, I wasn\t hypnotised; at best, these sorts of lyrics I would expect from a 9-year-old, not someone in their 30’s. This is really unoriginal and I am unimpressed – Did not expect such a zero-effort release, and quite frankly, I could not make myself past the 2nd song as I felt quite disgusted. Well, I eventually did and found the same repetitive themes; utter embarrassment. (Musically, no build-up, no hooks, and no catch.)
I also do not believe this to be the exemplar Mariusz Duda all came to know from Riverside; I came to know him as a blueprint for progressive rock/electronica proven itself mature and skilled, yet his solo records are nothing spectacular.
Mariusz, you can do better.
My thoughts exactly! Not everything Mariusz touches is gold and there are three things that I think he’s been overusing lately (the first two are the cornerstones of this album):
1. Looped vocals.
2. Uninteresting electronics.
3. Acoustic guitars.
He is just not as good at these as he is at other things (songwriting, bass playing, powerful vocals). This album is just extremely bland and at times even annoying (3/10).
9/10… come on!
Do you listen to progressive electronic regularly?
Progressive? I listen to a vast spectrum of music all the time, from extreme metal/drone, through avant garde and progressive music, to jazz, classical, electronica as well. My most recent playlist is Tangled Thoughts of Leaving, Dead Can Dance, Guðveiki, Sunken, Nick Mason’s A Saucerful of Secrets, No-Man, Dave Matthews Band. Riverside, too, their Wastelands Tour box. It’s my playlist from the last 3 days.
What does it have to do with me not liking Duda’s album? It’s poorly conceived and executed electronica, in my opinion. And that’s just it – my opinion. You like the album, your review shows why, and I respect it. I just happen not to like certain aspects of Duda’s output.
I haven’t listened to Duda’s new album but I will and I hope it’s much better. The latest Lunatic Soul is ok, great at times. Maciej Meller’s album is better and I’m waiting for Michał Łapaj’s album and expect it to be great.
I was just curious. Yes, “progressive electronic” is a genre. Most people that hate on electronic albums don’t listen to electronic music very often, in my experience. That’s the case with Duda at times, too, because fans expect him to keep making rock all the time. Duda’s electronic style is very reminiscent of Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, and others. Have you listened to much of them?
I am vaguely familiar with Vangelis and know TD quite well (and enjoy both) and you’re right – there are similarities between “Lockdown Spaces” and their work. The sequenced parts do remind me of TD circa “Rubycon”. Duda’s album also sounds similar to Boards of Canada (esp. “Geoggadi”). So it’s not like I don’t enjoy or appreciate this kind of music, I really do. (I am a fan of Venetian Snares!) But I agree that fans of progressive rock often dismiss music on aesthetic grounds.
My main problem with “LS” is probably with Duda looping his vocals. I just don’t like how he uses this technique and he’s been overusing it for quite some time. Another thing is the role of the vocals – I find them grating. And another thing is that the album does not resonate with me in any way. I mean, emotionally. I don’t feel any lockdown, isolation vibe. Maybe the melodies are too ‘bouncy’? But as I said, it’s just my opinion, I do not intend to criticize Mariusz too much as I respect the man a lot. And I do expect the second album under his name to be better.
In any case, I think the review is very good, even if I don’t agree with it. I completely agree with your review of the latest Steven Wilson, though. I absolutely love the album!
Interesting. I love the way Mariusz loops his vocals. Always have loved that in every project of his. I guess to each his own.
Indeed, to each his own 🙂 It’s not that it’s bad in itself, I do like it in some Riverside tracks, and it’s an interesting technique in itself, but at some point it started to irritate me.
Surprisingly this album gets excellent reviews. Now it became a trilogy. But it’s exactly how AF FD described. Hardly ever some album irritates me but the whole material it’s just like that. Not a chance not to hit stop button in the middle. This is my third attempt throughout last 2 years to listen to it and I’m going to try again next year, hoping that something clicks. But for now it’s a big 2/10 and somehow glad I’m not the only one feeling this way.
Do you listen to progressive electronic or ambient often?