Colorado-based alternative rock artist No Signal (Riley Schmelzer) takes genre-defying risks across venus, a new conceptually complex EP that’s executed with musical proficiency that sets him as an artist to keep an eye out for as he continues to develop artistically. Blending experimental elements from Tesla Coil, Theremin, EKG monitor, two-way radios, Moog synthesizers, and members of the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, venus has masterful musical arrangements and elevated production values that reinforce No Signal’s distinct sound. Riley shares,
When I was younger, I realized that all the biggest bands in the world are in that position because they sound like nobody else; they’ve created something new and unique. This is what I’m doing with No Signal…I’m trying to break new sonic ground.
venus welcomes listeners into an immersive sonic experience, created by sonic storylines and progressive rock tones. While each song is underpinned by rock symphonies, listeners are still treated to differing soundscapes as they are guided through the EP with deep instrumental elements and strong lyrical storytelling. Using extensive storyboarding tactics, Riley sculpts every concept through heavy visuals and precise details in order to solidify the specific story that every song tells, and how his projects are narrated throughout. He says,
I think it’s important that people know that music isn’t just sound – that it shouldn’t be the only thing going on. Instead of a three-minute pop song that sounds good to the ear, it should be an experience. Every project is a specific color, a specific number, a specific scent and taste, and smell. Everything must fit, even down to the ordering and titles of the songs.
The lyrically intense lead single, “tantrum,” touches on the push and pull of rage. Guided by heavy percussion which provides the song’s distinct heartbeat, the track leans into Riley’s productional aspirations. Accompanied by defined guitar riffs and entrancing vocal reverb, “tantrum” calls to mind alternative rock bands that fans have struggled to put neatly into a defined box. Rooted by intense instrumentals, the lyrical content includes imagery of tides and flames, representing that push and pull of rage. Riley shares that this track is “the first No Signal song in a while that I’d label as upbeat and energetic. It reintroduces those aspects of energy that I noticed were missing for a while.” It certainly is well-placed for the lead single because it hooks listeners into this unique sonic experience.
Reminiscent of early 2000s mainstream alt-rock, “kope” nails No Signal’s arena-ready signature sound. While the track may be unassuming based on the 30-second lead-in, which is significantly quieter and more pulled-back from the rest of the atmosphere, listeners are quickly taken into a driving soundscape that builds on the energy from “tantrum.” “kope” blends a light synth presence with vocal distortion and mind-bending choral transitions to showcase a wide palette of rock music’s greatest characteristics. Lyrically, it addresses what it’s like to be lost and alone after dealing with greed and lies, whether from jealousy or disillusionment. The vocal distortions enhance the emotional nature of the message, giving the track a feeling of distance while still being grounded in the resounding rock production.
Signaling the halfway point of this journey, the title track, “venus,” marks the longest song on the record with a significant run-time of 11 minutes and 10 seconds. Providing a strong opposition to the ending of “kope,” the beginning of “venus” is quieter in nature. It begins with enveloping reverbs that layer above muted and fuzzy vocal samples that dissolve into placid guitar strums and calm main vocals that bring forth a sense of serenity. The message now focuses on change and how easy it is to fall back into old patterns but also recognizes the need for change, for evolution. This dichotomy is reflected in the sonic balance achieved by acoustic tones surrounded by copious amounts of deeper rock instrumental solos that remind listeners that this is indeed still a rock track. Riley expresses how he feels drawn to the planet Venus, using it as a staple image throughout his track (as you could assume from the title), and particularly the way it accepts its path.
For those who may not consider rock as their first love, “aphelion” provides an easily ingestible option. A cross between Elton John‘s “Rock Man” and Evanescence‘s “My Immortal,” the lyrical storytelling strength and whimsical, yet haunting, composition teleports you to a deep illusion of floating through time and space. Alluding to missing someone and hoping to be reunited again, this buoyant single leaves much to be interpreted. Building out the orchestral melodies are chilling piano and vibrating strings that mesh with the vocal harmonies. “aphelion” showcases not only the range of what one can consider rock but also the production mastery that Riley possesses while he seamlessly inserts this symphonic track into venus.
Drawing the experience to a close is “zero,” pulls on the sounds we’ve heard so far, from its reverbing basslines and powerful vocals to its introspective lyrics and explosive instrumentals. The lyrics focus on regrets rooted in fear – words left unsaid and memories heavy with silence. Heavy imagery representative of dreams, or nightmares, and the universe are also included, which tie back to images from earlier songs. The reuse of imagery also shows the awareness that Riley has when it comes to creating a cohesive story and flow, just proving his point about music having to be more than just sounds.
Even if you don’t regularly listen to rock (I don’t), you must set aside 32 minutes to listen to venus. There is so much to digest from these five tracks and you will readily become engrossed in the thoughtfulness shown by No Signal to craft a unique EP for listeners to lose themselves in.