Alien Skin



WINTER ON MARS new CD album 2016

At times organic, sometimes claustrophobic and underpinned with erratic, mutated guitar and funereal synthesizers. Stories jump to life amidst mournful sound sculptures that reverberate through rain puddled narrow backstreets, evoking a feeling of being, perhaps, the only living human on earth. This is the 7th Alien Skin studio album.

REVIEW by RATED SOUND Winter on Mars is the latest addition to a an impressive body of work from former Real Life keyboardist, George Pappas. It seems a little bit of an imposition, if not downright cheeky to champion someone of such pop pedigree in a section for new artists. However, whilst this innovative musician has been quietly and steadily building a following it seems there are some yet to discover the magic of Alien Skin.

George Pappas had a long and fruitful association with Australian band Real Life who enjoyed huge chart success with their 1980s smash, Send Me An Angel. Although not a founding member, George was a lynch pin of the band and received much credit for taking the band’s sound by the scruff of the neck to provide genuine edge. With his input Real Life enjoyed renewed success in the nineties and into the new millennium but George didn’t settle for the constraints of a band and wanted to create his own material, which brings us to Alien Skin.

The Winter on Mars album is Alien Skin’s seventh studio release in nine prolific years since 2007 and develops George Pappas' gifts for melody, atmospherics and imaginative story-telling. His time in Real Life have honed his abilities to write great pop hooks and these are in evidence throughout the album but that isn’t at the expense of ambience and there is real depth to these songs.

The opening title track to Winter on Mars sets the tone to the album. It has a laid-back, soulful and almost lounge-like sound and yet conveys a real sense of desolation. Alien Skin draws the listener in with this track as the rest of the album begs to be heard.

Comparisons to Berlin-era David Bowie and Iggy Pop’s The Idiot are inevitable and justified. The cold execution of Kraftwerk’s best albums also spring to mind but George’s lyrics and more ambitious arrangements take this a couple steps away from that. At times the atmosphere of the album reminds me of the classic Public Image Limited album Second Edition but this is more to do with the feeling the album induces rather than comparisons to the music.

Lyrically the songs are very much in the narrative style and we are treated to eleven stories connected by a thread. In this way, Alien Skin's Winter on Mars is related to that other Australian spinner of yarns, Nick Cave. None of the songs last too long, with the longest clocking in at around 4 minutes. Yet we seem to cover a lot of ground in this short time.

There are many highlights on Winter on Mars but I’d like to draw special attention to The Empty Wait, The Penny Whistler, Patch of Grass and Cornwall. The latter track actually brought vivid images into my mind of Cornwall but I’m sure its not necessary to visit the place to enjoy this track! Many of the songs are hard to decipher but this oblique approach has advantages. The listener has the feeling of almost understanding what the song is all about but these fleeting glances of enlightenment make for repeated listening.

We should be grateful that people like George Pappas are making music like Alien Skin Winter on Mars. Over eleven tracks and around forty minutes, we are offered a chance to escape into the artist’s vivid imagination. It’s not always a comfortable place to be – just listen to the lyrics to Language of Love. This is music that deserves to be heard with it’s strong melodies, inventive arrangements and peerless performances. Did I even mention the female vocals from Deity? Alien Skin Winter on Mars provides a flight of fancy, on the surface, with a backbone that is very much rooted in hard reality and it comes highly recommended.

- Winter On Mars contains atmospheric soundscapes but still lands in the realm of pop. The vocal melodies are often catchy and are the focal center of the songs while multiple layers of sound support Alien Skin's voice. Pappas points to a number of influences including David Sylvian, Martin Gore, David Bowie, The Beatles, Tangerine Dream and Scott Walker. Right off the bat I was reminded of Bowie. That being said I wonder if Brian Eno was an influence. I couldn’t help but think of albums like Ambient 1: Music for Airports and Music for Films. I also heard some influence from Scott Walker after his days as a teen idol. Although albums like The Drift and Bish Bosch are far more experimental and esoteric than Winter On Mars.

The balance between palatable melodies and the atmospheres that Pappas creates is impressive throughout the album. Completely ethereal ambient albums such as Selected Ambient Works Volume II by Aphex Twin can serve best as mood music. Winter On Mars is certainly not that for a number of reasons. The vocal melodies give the songs a sense of energy and the songs serve a narrative. According to his Bandcamp page, “songs are peppered with narratives and a menagerie of quirky, curious characters wandering aimlessly in the lost and found of the author's imagination.”

Now I have to admit I wasn’t sure what every song was about and there is some ambiguous language but Pappas certainly paints some interesting imagery whether he is singing about a “patch of grass” or a “penny whistler.”

Winter On Mars is a very fluid and cohesive album. In fact it was so fluid and consistent I felt like the album could almost be one long track. “Patch of Grass” was a song that immediately stuck out to me. Another one I sure wouldn't pass up is “She's Paper Thin.” I’m not sure the name of the female singer [ed. Deity] who is present on some of these tracks such as  “She's Paper Thin” but she certainly sounds great.

Some people get the itch early on in life to make music and it just never leaves. I think that's fair to say about Pappas. In Pappas’ case it's nice to hear that he is constantly evolving just like Bowie, Walker and Eno did. [Matt Jensen]

REVIEW by MUSICBLOGGED - Alien Skin is a rather new electronic music project that originates from an eclectic background. George Pappas, the composer behind the moniker was in fact a member of hit-charting Australian band Real Life, who made big waves in the 80s with their hit single “Send Me An Angel”. Following the experience with this synth-pop act, George abandoned the easy melodies and sugary arrangement in order to create a textural, dark and haunting blend of sound that bridges the gaps between the twisted darkness of Aphex Twin and the cinematic atmospheres of Sigur Ros. This is the premise behind the Alien Skin project.

Alien Skin’s recent studio album, “Winter on Mars” is a portrait of strikingly beautiful sonic landscapes that feel strangely familiar, yet absolutely foreign, much like a red canyon on Mars. The album features 11 lush and blissfully atmospheric tracks that blend in elements such as shoegaze and dream-pop in all the right ways: Think “My Bloody Valentine” jamming with ‘Viva La Vida’ Era “Coldplay” and Slowdive.

“Winter on Mars” demonstrates George’s unique ability for blending poetic lyricism with striking sonic features, coupled with a voice that reminds me of eclectic artists including David Bowie or Iggy Pop, among others. [Ben Corke]

Buy WINTER ON MARS from Bandcamp (below) or purchase the CD over the counter from a real shop and save on postage! Also available iTunes & all major stores.