Mariusz Duda has been highly productive during the COVID-19 pandemic. I wish I could say the same about my own writing ventures. Anyways, Mariusz is back with the second album of the “Lockdown Trilogy”. This one is called “Claustrophobic Universe”, and it releases on April 23rd.
You should know Mariusz from his work with Riverside and Lunatic Soul. If you don’t, shame on you: Go listen to those projects. If you do know Mariusz’s other work, you should be familiar with the influence progressive electronic music has had on his style. Riverside even released an electronic compilation album at one point. This isn’t unknown territory for Mariusz or his fans, and what I’ve learned from the last two releases is that Mariusz is very, very good at this genre of music.
“Claustrophobic Universe” is different both conceptually and musically from last year’s “Lockdown Spaces”. Conceptually, that album dealt with the tight, constricting nature of being restricted to a certain space. It was about existing in smaller spaces and being hyper-aware of every brick, every screen, and every noise in that enclosed area. The music, naturally, felt stark, strangulating, and dark.
This new album is not only different, but it is also the logical continuation of the former. “Claustrophobic Universe” represents the creative and imaginative space that Mariusz constructed once he learned to cope with lockdown itself, once he learned to deal with the sudden changes in social interaction and his creative process. Because of this, the music is more upbeat. Focusing less on eerie electronic loops or shadowy keyboards, and more on crazy percussive beats and bubbling atmospheres. It feels more whimsical, colorful, and even playful.
Observing both the music and the song titles, you can imagine Mariusz blasting off for other planets and galaxies, trying bold new flavor combinations, or envisioning fantastical places and times. All of this is within his own head, though; all of this is a universe unto itself within his own mind, like a universe inside a petri dish. This is the place where creatives are forced to operate; and, because of this, the album ends up being an ode to those who can persevere and create within any space, no matter how compressed or monotonous.
I really enjoy this record. As good and beautiful as “Lockdown Spaces” was, it isn’t an album that I want to revisit often because of the stifling nature of the music. With this new album, I’ve found that I want to revisit it again and again, and it expands my thoughts well when I’m creating something of my own. It feels spunky, slippery, and even silly at times, and that’s exactly what I wanted.
The tracks generally fall under one of two types. Some are more about bonkers beats or rhythms, such as “Knock Lock” with its vocal samples and staccato beat or “2084” with its interesting beat paired with ethereal melody. Some tracks are more about a slithering, building rhythms, and I tend to like those the best. Examples of this would be “Planets in a Milk Bowl” with its imaginative, almost transformative vibe, “I Landed on Mars” with its utter ambience”, and “Waves From a Flat Earth” with its catchy melody and sweet distortions.
The second half of the album is my favorite overall. “Escape Pod” is a dreamy track with an echoing piano loop that I really like. “Lemon Flavoured Stars” starts out an ambient song but transitions into an electronic, edgy loop that wouldn’t have been out of placed on Lunatic Soul’s “Fractured”. And then the single, which is the title track, is a delicate, hushed exploration of the universe, but from my perspective it is a universe that still feels enclosed, however, big it might feel. The winding electronic melody feels so good and so does the way it collides with the crescendo near the end. Finally, “Numbers and Denials” is a plucky, optimistic closer, at least at first. It ends up in a floating void, almost like simultaneously crashing back to a locked down earth and also being lost within one’s own cerebral universe. Either way, it is a fitting ending.
Mariusz Duda is a creative force, and he is showing us that he can continue this trend even in difficult places. “Claustrophobic Universe” visits Jean-Michel Jarre or Tangerine Dream’s livelier output more than the ultra-seriousness of Vangelis, and it is a great change of pace. This will certainly be one of the best electronic albums of the year.
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