Stenocybus’ Creativity Won’t Stop
It’s obvious that all musical artists have a large well of ideas and inspiration to draw from, or else we would never hear their music. There are some, however, that make it seem like that stream of creative expression is always flowing and never truly stops. The Illinois-based producer Stenocybus falls into the latter category. His album Oneiros is jam-packed with dense and stylistically sprawling musical material that still maintains a cohesive sound throughout. Although it seems like Stenocybus focuses mainly on rhythmic interplay with his compositions, the instrumental set also has emotive melodies that conjure a sense of narrative in the songs.
Although Stenocybus’ music could be described as simply “electronic,” it definitely leans toward video game music and even chiptune. We hear this particularly in the early going, on tracks like the opener “Hot Cocoa.” The song could easily fit as an old-school video game theme with its sweet, bubbly melody over a mid-tempo, plodding beat. It’s easy to imagine characters venturing through fantastical worlds while listening to “Hot Cocoa,” a concept that holds true throughout Oneiros. And although the two subsequent tracks continue in similar style as “Hot Cocoa,” there’s a moment about a minute into the second song “Daybreak” where the percussion gives way to a bed of synth pads that, while brief and fairly nondescript, gives a hint that Stenocybus probably won’t stay in any one style for too long.
The first significant stylistic change of pace comes with the ballad-like, aptly titled “Dreamscape.” The slowed down tempo is the most noticeable break from the previous songs, but one can also notice Stenocybus’ use of textures, particularly in the gentle piano part. We also get an increasing sense of his extensive use and experimentation with rhythmic layering, which continues through the end of the album.
“Wait for Me” marks another change in style with its minimal production and straightforward beat. If the song’s harmony and beat were left alone, one could almost imagine the song falling into the R&B arena. As it is, though, Stenocybus concocts another sweet, innocent-sounding melody that floats over the music. It all goes to prove Stenocybus’ versatility, without sacrificing an identifying overall sound.
One of the standout elements on Oneiros is Stenocybus’ aforementioned use of rhythm, which is exemplified perhaps most acutely on the track “Ethereal Juke.” The song doesn’t have a very memorable melody, but it seems that just about every sound in the track, from the lead synth line down to the kick drum patterns has some kind of syncopated rhythm, which creates a fascinating tapestry of moving parts. Stenocybus’ experimentations with rhythm seem to gradually gain momentum throughout the course of the album, culminating with tracks like “Ethereal Juke.”
Another notable track at the back end of Oneiros is “The Forest Breathes,” which tells a story with the title alone, but also says quite a lot once the music starts. The expansive track explores many different thematic areas in its eight minutes, without ever feeling tired. There are even varying stylistic opportunities embedded within the track as one could almost hear a rapper dropping a verse or two over the song’s relaxed beat. While Stenocybus explored rhythm in some of the previous songs, here he really seems to dive into the use of different thematic material to evoke different moods. It’s another layer of his clearly overflowing spring of musical ideas.
By the end of Oneiros, one cannot help but marvel not only at the amount of work on the album but also the sophistication of some of the musical techniques used throughout. And all the while, Stenocybus maintains a signature sound even while traversing quite diverse musical terrain. There are moments where the music feels too crowded, where the multitude of ideas overwhelms the sense of musicality, but they are a minority. Overall, there is musical depth, accessible beats and melodies, and also a significant breadth of emotional as well, all of which will please any fan of instrumental electronic music.