Alexander Brandon commemorated his extensive career in 2007 with the digital release of the original album Era's End. It blends influences from his early years as a tracker musician with his more modern styles that he has developed working on high-profile video games such as Deus Ex. Although the music is mostly digitised, there is a wide variety in the sounds featured, given Brandon opted to incorporate so many styles into his work. He even hybridises samples from old and new technology. Is this album an effective tribute to his career?
The opener "Two Steps" reflects the concept of blending old and new right away. A large portion of the composition is dedicated to Brandon's uplifting piano work; despite demonstrating pop and jazz influences, the writing is quite individualistic and particularly exuberant in the development sections. He further captivates listeners with the additions of funky electronic grooves, some of which have a retro sound and were probably written in a tracker. "Open Road" features a similar blend of pop, funk, and acoustic elements, exhibiting perhaps the most anthemic melody of them all. "The Dragonfly" is also well-suited for relaxing background listening. While it loses the piano work, the blend of semi-acoustic guitar passages, unplugged parts, and electronic infusions feels very special. There is just enough edge to ensure it isn't too smooth, yet still totally mesmerising.
While Era's End is a relaxing listen from start to finish, it is surprisingly energetic in places too. Brandon rejects all acoustic elements on "Guru" to blend electronic samples from new and old technology. The resultant soundscapes are so colourful and dynamic, yet very soothing too. "They Danced" is one of the most hybridised pieces of all, combining piano work, electronic beats, and acoustic elements. Brisk, smooth, and elevated, I couldn't resist being carried away by it. "Oracle" has a similar effect, but is led by the rich timbres of various keyboards and organs instead. The final result is as unconventionally spiritual as the name suggests. The last instrumental contribution of the set, "Carolina Steel", is a delight too with its use of all sorts of all sorts of guitars. It really complements the rustic landscapes of America, yet is utterly soulful too.
There are three tracks towards the end of the album that are a little unusual in their production. Brandon's long-time collaborator Bryan Rudge makes a welcome guest contribution with "Free Fall". This is the closest the album comes to mainstream electronica, yet it exhibits a very distinctive minimalistic quality too. It's stunning to hear how this composition develops over its six minute playtime. Of the two vocal tracks, "The Muse" is the least accessible. Brandon seems to sample from eccentric voice libraries here and integrates the male vocals in a sporadic way. The resultant quirkiness was probably intended, but won't work for everyone. The electronic sections nevertheless develop sublimely and this track is as timeless as the rest. The final track "Incubus" really captures that reflective feel with its poignant lyrics and electronic soundscaping. The vocals are likely a select taste, but are as emotional and distinctive as the other elements in the album. It's a great closer/
To summarise, Era's End is a special album. Brandon's stylistic fusions and digital soundscaping are beautifully done from start to finish. As a result, this album is ideal for unobstrusive background listening and has a soothing effect. Yet closer inspections are also fulfilling and its impressive how Brandon blends so many different forces into his peices. What's more, this album isn't just an amalgamation of different styles, since it constantly reflects the individualism of its composer too. This ensures that it is a refreshingly unique listen and comes together to form a cohesive whole. Those who have enjoyed Brandon's work in the demoscene and games industry should enjoy this, particularly those with an inclination for light electronica, pop, and rock. It's a pity that it didn't receive a full release, but a digital download is highly recommended.