B. West

The music on B. West’s debut solo LP is distinct from anything we’ve heard from the Vancouver ex-pat in any previous musical incarnation. While the music on Ex-Fantasy is not entirely removed from the sound of West’s work in techno-body project Sigsaly, it’s still a distinct musical entity unto itself, and a still further cry from the material put out as part of dark punk trio lié or the darkwave of Koban. Still, the attitudes and ideas of those projects work their way into the banging synthpunk LP in ways that provide grit and dimension that takes it beyond the dancefloor.

Unlike some of the latter Sigsaly material, the songs on Ex-Fantasy are vocally driven, the manic high-speed synth and drum programming arranged around West’s commanding vocal presence. There’s almost a fast-forward house feeling the bubbly synths and kick-clap percussion of “Cakes”, but once you hear the half-sneering, half-defiant delivery of the song’s climax it becomes something far more foreboding and visceral, the spotlight on West’s voice presaging a messy spray of sharp-edged synths that take over the song in its final third. Alternately, the far-off approach taken with the vocals on opener “Beginnings” are surgical, puncturing the mix in ways that allow its charging bassline and chattering lead to guide the track to its inevitable feeling conclusion, where stereo splash cymbals go off like fireworks.

The rough and ready production and arrangements of the album are good and effective in providing a platform for West’s considerable charisma and personality; rarely anything less than strident, the producer and performer leans in hard and carves out space for their voice in the kind of chaos that might have overwhelmed lesser voices. The title track has such dense interplay between synth and percussion that West’s short punky ad libs and big ‘whooaas’ feel extra powerful for having the presence to punch through them. If you’re familiar with West’s previous work you can hear that history brought to bear as the poised venom of lié comes through on the chewed-off syllables of the anxiety inducing “HEDONE”, and the regal bearing of Koban in how chorus of “Dance It Off” is delivered, splitting the difference between its bouncy bass and its icy melody.

Inasmuch as our experience with Ex-Fantasy is shaped by familiarity with the catalogue that preceded it, the record is a lot more than just drawing the lines between it and West’s extant catalogue. There’s a pure and visceral quality to cuts like “Slices”, informed by modern techno, but stripped down and hammered into forms that emphasize impact from first beat to last. It’s not what we were expecting, but is undeniably a better experience for its livewire energy and unrelenting momentum.

Buy it.