Angel Marcloid does not quit. From the experimental vaporwave of Fire-Toolz to the longform atmospherics of Mindspring Memories, along with myriad other boundary-pushing projects, the Chicago artist has uploaded enough complex and challenging auditory and visual material to crash the kind of ancient computer on which it seems appropriate to engage it. Under the new moniker Nonlocal Forecast, Angel quite literally synthesizes some of her biggest influences from the eighties’ and nineties’ prog rock, smooth jazz, and new age scenes using almost entirely digital instrumentation and programming. The result, Bubble Universe!, is an eclectic, multifaceted, eminently listenable collection of ethereal neo-muzak.
Album opener “Celestial Nervous System” instantly grounds listeners in Nonlocal Forecast’s constructed-world uncanny valley. The first half of the song runs mellifluously with no clear sense of time signature—somewhat disorienting at first glance—before settling into a very brief swing groove just ahead of the two minutes mark. The song then blooms into a bouncier passage, where organic lead guitar is integrated with the synthetic orchestration for a romp before overlapping new-age melodies close the tune. Those hallmarks—time and tempo fluidity, juxtaposition of performance and programming, and diversity of musical intensities—are continually implemented and reinvented as the album proceeds. “Planck Lengths” features rapidfire Mixolydian keyboard dancing buoyed by rolling drums and occasional chirping birds; “Cloud-Hidden” perhaps most directly evokes an alternate-universe Rush radio hit remixed, with a dash of Richard Souther. “The Direct Path” sheds percussion, opting instead to form its base on a deep melodic motif (on… plucked strings? melodic drums?), which is accented with more crisp lead guitar and stargazing keyboard.
Angel audaciously “features” herself, in Fire-Toolz form, on the somewhat heavier “Triangular Format” which utilizes glitchy drum patterns rather than quasi-human ones and more bombastic synth tones. Sadly, this is one of the album’s shorter tracks; I could do with a full album of this autonomous collaboration. “The Evolutionary Game”, once it gets going, evokes a sense of nostalgia with its tinny keyboard melody and electronic pan-flute accompaniment. It’s conference-call-hold-music of the highest caliber, a song that you’ve definitely never heard yet you can swear you heard once twenty years ago. This din of familiarity is rebuffed by the end, though, as the percussion and heavier synth elements begin to dominate and transform the piece.
“Classical Information” puts a light swing twist in its department-store aesthetic, and has a lovely burst of more technical synth work. “Foam, Vacuum, Om” goes full-on ambient, sounding something like the musical equivalent of a bright hospital hallway at 3 AM. This relaxing soundscape extends into “Conscious Agent Combos”, as it progressively adds more active backing elements. Bird chirps return from their brief flight in album closer “Wave Nature”, which wraps things up with even more ambiance.
Altogether, Marcloid has assembled something boldly countercultural and unique with Bubble Universe!… Most modern art that conjures this retro aesthetic does so in a transformative, ironic, or modern-tinged way. Nonlocal Forecast approaches its subject matter straightforwardly and embraces what it is, not seeking to make the “uncool” cool, but making something “uncool” for those of us who like “uncool” stuff in 2019. (I’m using those quotes because I happen to be one of those people who unironically enjoys stuff like Yanni, Richard Souther, and eighties’ Rush.) I can’t imagine the investment of time it takes to program such intricate compositions, but acknowledging that, I do think the album is a little too short and a little too ambient. Its best and most novel parts by far are its most active and complex, but it would be a daunting challenge to craft a full fifty (or even forty) minutes of material like that. Nevertheless, Angel has proven herself beyond capable in yet another musical venture, and whatever comes next—for Nonlocal Forecast or any other Marcloid project—will always merit attention.