The debut full-length from Alberta-born producer Jex Opolis is an enjoyable trip through that most popular of decades in 2017, the synth-y '80s. Although it boasts a veritable treasure trove of settings from that era, Ravines manages to mostly avoid getting bogged down in clichéd signifiers. It's sometimes a bit too light and airy for its own good, threatening to blow away for lack of memorable melodic content, but its vibrant and playful collection of synth-tones carries it in the end.
Although known up to this point for his dance-oriented fare, Opolis goes for a more mid-tempo approach here, flirting with pop structures along the way a la Hot Chip or Cut Copy, but sans vocals. Lead single "First Stomp" does feature some indigenous-style vocalizing (Opolis has a Métis background), but it's the exception here.
The synths that are the real stars of Ravines, and the title track in particular is brimming with goofy tone choices and fun improv noodling. Opolis doesn't magically make the cheesier elements of '80s sound design cool all of a sudden, but he treats them with respect and invites us to do the same.
There are perhaps some uninspired moments that threaten to expose the album as merely an exercise in '80s soundbank tourism — album closer "Snow on Tomkins" and much of "Aprés Midi" spring to mind — but Ravines is a largely successful foray into synth-driven instrumental pop that should please fans of the recent SURVIVE release, for instance. There's a lot of nascent hook potential buried here that Opolis will hopefully mine in the future, as well, but for now, Ravines is a solid start. (Good Timin’)