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Relaxation and Action
By KevOz
Label: Kevin R. Osborn Music
Released 7/1/2016
Relaxation and Action tracks
1. Victory at Hand
2. Waves of Nostalgia
3. Bongos in Flight
4. Epic Space Cola
5. Just You and Me
6. Magic Wand
7. Zentronica
8. Close Enough for Jazz
9. Panned-a-monium
10. Chiptune Delight
11. Ping Pong Blues
12. Yoga Worship on Mars
13. Love You Every Day
14. Purple Hearts
KevOz - Relaxation and Action
It's been a while since synth-wizard Kevin Osborn (KevOz) has released an original music album (seven years), but Relaxation and Action is worth the wait. Over the recording’s fourteen tracks, Osborn treats the listener to a veritable smorgasbord of synthesizer stylings: retro-tronica, '80s synth pop nostalgia, dreamy new age, and more. Definitely not weighed down by overt seriousness (song titles include "Bongos in Flight," "Panned-a-monium," "Ping Pong Blues," and "Yoga Worship on Mars"), Osborn's music is meant to be uber-delicious ear candy, sometimes slyly tongue-in-cheek and other times warmly embracing its bubbly, percolating giddiness.

In the liner notes, Osborn flat out states that “I…had lots of fun crafting the 14 tracks [on the album]. I hope you enjoy them.” Well, if you are tuned into this effervescent style of electronic music which celebrates its own sensation of carefree cheerfulness, unafraid of sounding overtly retro at times, and definitely not weighed down by any hint of pretention, then you are sure to have a fantastic time with this release. I have no doubt some folks will look down their nose at the somewhat “home studio” nature of this release (after all, Osborn did literally everything, including all the engineering and mastering and he even designed the artwork), but for me, that is one of the appeals of the recording. I remember listening to Osborn’s first recording, Lakefront (1998) and I recognized that he was on to something even then but he needed a little more polish as some tracks were a tad rough around the edges. Well, those edges are nice and smooth now and the polish glistens with a well-honed sheen. From a technical standpoint, Relaxation and Action may not sound like a major label release, but once more, that is its main point of appeal.

Influences on the album include Jean-Michele Jarre, Harold Faltermeyer, Larry Fast (Synergy), as well as synth pioneers such as Beaver and Krause and Michael Garrison. This is pure electronic music which luxuriates in its cybernism (yes, I made that word up). Granted, some sampled instruments are present, as are some chorales, but never once does this sound like its intended to ape actual instruments in realistic fashion (at least not from where I am sitting). If I have a nit to pick, it would be that the tracks “Bongos in Flight,” and “Yoga Worship on Mars” could stand to be shortened by two or three minutes (they each clock in at six and change), especially since the other twelve numbers run from 1:37 to 4:43 in length. If that is Osborn’s only transgression, I’d say he is doing just fine, thankyouverymuch.

The joyfulness that propels the opening “Victory at Hand” is damn infectious, chugging along with fat bass beats and iridescent bell tones, ringing with a celebratory note at the titular victory no doubt. Later, trap kit drums explode with a playful freneticism and whooshing synths whisk any worries you may have away. “Waves of Nostalgia” is actually less “nostalgic” than some of the other tracks here, but it bounces along with a welcome breeziness. “Epic Space Cola” (!) fizzes (get it?) with a dash of Faltemeyer-ish spice and some catchy breakbeats, while “Just You and Me” marries retro synths with a more contemporary chill-out vibe and mellow piano runs. “Magic Wand” may bring to mind Berlin EM at times, or maybe the earlier music of Cusco. “Zentronica” carries the subtlest hint of Asia, perhaps painting a musical picture of Tokyo at night, ablaze with neon light and pulsing with life and energy. The too-short “Close Enough for Jazz” sounds like it could have been on Jan Hammer’s Beyond the Mind’s Eye soundtrack (that is a huge compliment coming from me). “Chiptune Delight” will likely be the source of a love/hate relationship with listeners with few falling somewhere in the middle. Borrowing an assortment of early ‘80s video game sounds and retro synths and marrying them to bouncy rhythms (with only a sparse melodic component), it’s an acquired taste but one that I acquired easily (hey, I lost a lot of quarters playing Galaga, Tron, Joust, Defender and Tempest). “Love You Every Day” has that dramatic full sound that people gravitated to on Synergy’s (Larry Fast) earlier albums. By the end it becomes a sweeping, joyous ode to romance with a lovely piano refrain and church bells galore (I have to think this song is a meant for Osborn’s wife, Beth).

Best listened to while cruising around on a sunny day or a warm night with the windows down, Relaxation and Action is decidedly not for those looking for a big, splashy production but rather a homespun approach emphasizing tuneful melodies and catchy beats, a recording that throws in the occasional nod and wink to the listener as if to say “Ain’t this fun?” Since I started reviewing 19 years ago, I have always championed music such as KevOz's. It's joyful, exuberant, and unself-conscious, all noble goals for one's music as far as I'm concerned!
- reviewed by Bill Binkelman on 8/7/2016
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