Tunnels is the sophomore full-length release by the Kansas City-based Brandon Knocke aka Discoverer. Released in October 2012 on Digitalis Recordings and available to purchase and listen to in full at the artist’s Bandcamp page, the eight tracks gleam and glint due to their highly digital structures. Everything on this album is synth-based, and while this is no particularly exciting prospect, the following addendum definitely is: Knocke aurally paints one of these virtual reality or cyberspace-inspired post-Rave pattern-insinuating artifacts which I so adore. It is designedly retrogressive and highly accessible. Discoverer uses a Trip Hop pattern in all of his songs, but this stylistic stipulation only adds to the hypnotic surrealism of the digital age. Distantly connected to the cyber-oid sound worlds of Lone, Zoë Blade, Panabrite or Stellar OM Source, Brandon Knocke’s music is in fact much more similar to the funkiness of Dâm-Funk which is merged with the synth stabs of Trevor Horn and the Hip-Hop structures of Eliot Lipp. And to be honest: Tunnels is an album which I would have probably turned down if it had been offered to me for a commissioned review, but for different reasons than one might expect. It is a superb work for synth fans, and luckily enough sits right on the cusp between beat-driven music and Ambient, but if I were not such a huge fan of this galactic-technocratic kind of music, I most likely would have criticized the rhythm- and beat-related ingredients. On a closer inspection, I can securely state that there is one important thing that outshines the bass drums, and that is fortunately the gorgeous synth textures of the Ambient kind. The songs swirl and float and always feel overwhelmingly wide, encapsulating the listener in a space filled with the peculiarities of the 80’s, a futuristic lightness and positive outlook, with only traces of gloom and antitrust-suggesting conglomerates. Reuniting the would-be past with a future of factoids, Tunnels caters exactly to my taste and is enormously shiny; Knocke can cover a lot of its structural flaws with an abundance of resplendent synth washes. An in-depth analysis of Discoverer’s second full-length chip-assisted cyberspace vision follows below.


The glorification of silicon, all hail to the chip choon: Circular Motherboard, the base frame and fundament of all consumer electronics no matter how small or commonplace, kicks off the album with digital music box-resembling stardust spirals which oscillate in front of warm drone washes and sizzling coils. This particular motherboard is the mother of all boards, caressing, smarmy, soothing. The synth streams continue to prosper, grow louder and more vigorous all the while an easygoing Trip Hop beat with 303 bass blebs underlines the scenery. Decidedly embracing the digital lifestyle, the sound layers emanate bliss and joy, grow to enchanting climaxes and calcine back into their gently swirling state. Only the least traces of wonkiness and elasticized frequency lariats alter the euphony, but never aggressively so. Circular Motherboard delivers the most elysian of all transcendental experiences in a world made of gadgets. A stunning opener, well-balanced and mellow. The following Amputee schleps itself into a duskier scenery, with sanguine swells of post-apocalyptic synth apparitions wafting in repetitive wave-like cycles. A soft beat with 80’s handclaps serves as the foundation for heavily vocoded vocals and a loftier countermovement which moulds the blood-red heaviness into bluer conducting paths. Humanoid whistles add traces of philanthropy in an otherwise curiously warm but odious hymn, repugnantly neglecting any moment of bliss.


Blood Lab then seems to follow the paths of these ominous circuits, but only by means of its track title, for the actual soundscape is excitingly iridescent, akin to the opener and enormously embracing. Launching with vocoder billows which undulate in a delicately elastic manner, their afterglow blooming gently before the pitch-black nonentity, soon enough the formulaic but still effective Trip Hop beat is dropped and ennobles the scenery as a marker of gentle movement rather than alatoric drifting. The galactic synth pads and buzzes of electricity work well together and create a strangely melancholic, yet forward-looking aura. The admixed samples of Disco queens and the bustling murmuring drive the song further. Blood Lab, in the end, is pristine and pure, coated in an alloy of nostalgia, but eventually able to move freely within these boundaries. The eponymous Tunnels is the fourth offering of the digital deity. Clearly resembling the crisp synth pads and insouciant euphony of Dâm-Funk’s tunes, it fades in with the prominent beat structure already intact; slightly altered cowbells and shaker-heavy frizzles underpin the prolonged synths whose various layers form a blithesome thicket where melodic protuberances are clearly towering, illumining the already glistening setting supplementarily from above. One segue or bridge comprises of quieter synths, making the listener aware of an assumedly female beat box bebop scheme in sync with the beat. All in all, Tunnels paints a neon-lit cyberspace of the metropolitan, nonhazardous kind, creating a sylphlike yet dynamic fluxion thanks to the conspicuousness of the shakers.


While human aspects conflate once more with the cold world of technology in Lesbian Software, a tune which draws from the dark red threnody of Amputee and injects it into an intertwinement of lamenting vocoder performances and cylonic synth streams in adjacency to coruscating scintillae plus related pulses, Data Pool twirls, hovers and fluctuates in orange hues, meets a laid-back beat machine from the days of yore and sees crystalline-translucent color ribbons pierce through the comparably streamlined body of liquid that fills the majority of this test tube. By now, the novelty factor has grown thin, Brandon Knocke does not add anything mind-blowing, but nonetheless enthralls the listener with the first appearance of wondrously vesiculating silver flecks near the end which pulsate and bleep in mellifluous, silkened ways. Materialize then borrows a few galactosamines, inoculates their square lead pad shapes and lets them unfold in-between bright synth fractals and ethereal strata. The beat is stable, but fittingly jarring, adding dynamics to the luminosity. Materialize lives up to its name by slowly making the listener’s acquaintance with a windy fade-in full of digital gales, and it then vaporizes in the same way with spectral hisses of wraithlike amicability. The finale is called Personal Clone and meshes its heftily quavering ghost globs of the prelude phase with a pumping midtempo beat, cordially buzzing sawtooth drones and pointillistic space harp glitters. During the first half of Personal Clone, lachrymosity and stasis reign despite the prominent beat structure, but the second half truly shines with the first – and obviously last – appearance of a clear cut 4/4 beat with bloated snare drums and fresh solar synths whose washed-out sunset marks the contemplative end of the album.


Relying as much on Ambient structures as enveloping them in camouflaged Trip Hop settings with Funk borrowings, Discoverer’s chip tunes off Tunnels are always filled with warmth and positive vibes even in the more intense, murkier moments. Despite the digital topos and the multitude of available effects and filters, Brandon Knocke clearly tries to build something with this album. This assertion may seem all too profane, but it is nonetheless important as an astute description of the eight tracks. The sceneries are almost clinically polished, but not sterile. Not even a trace of static noise is found in this album, no single bit is ever crushed, no cut-off knob is turned so much to the left or right that the whole atmosphere of a tune would suddenly shift into acidic or alkaline regions. This designedly streamlined approach does not call for an experienced listener and certainly wears thin to a certain degree over the course of the album, but the cohesion and stringency have their clear advantages. They lure the listener time and again, let him or her feast on the shimmering surfaces of the textural quality, and create a kind of hypnotic flow that is further kindled by the constancy of the applied beat structure. This is a dedicated Trip Hop-like album, but as I have hinted before, Ambient plays a large part in it too. The synth spirals and changing patterns are the actual stars, and whether they reside in auspiciously light blue virtual realities or blood-red cesspools, Tunnels is all about light. It is not necessarily gleeful, but makes it comparably easy to distill its beautiful parts; like a peacock, it shows its wealth of material all the time. Strong favorites of mine are the revelatory-elevatory opener Circular Motherboard with its velvety physiognomy, the strangely dualistic Blood Lab which cannot decide whether it wants to suffer from self-pity or form the basis for a hero’s mission in a cyber espionage setting full of forbidden experiments, and the title track Tunnels with its almost audaciously blazing luminescence and carefreeness which stand in sharp contrast to the album title.


Further listening and reading: 

  • You can purchase Tunnels virtually everywhere, but if you want to check out the whole album, you can do just that via Bandcamp.
  • Follow Brandon Knocke at Twitter: @modernhug.


Ambient Review 227: Discoverer – Tunnels (2012). Originally published on Jun. 12, 2013 at