Upon first listen to Ancient Lasers' album, In Quicksand, I was hooked.
Immediately diving into catchy melodies and addicting lyrics, Ancient Lasers leaves no room for filler, catering to today's A.D.D.-prone generation of music fans who are likely to skip a track within seconds if it doesn't catch their ear. Maybe this one-man band a.k.a. Daniel Finfer is a little A.D.D. himself in the best way possible, as In Quicksand delightfully samples elements of alternative rock, electro pop, and experimental beats throughout each track.
Besides the refreshing originality of songs, my favorites being "Everybody is Disappearing," "Make It Work", and "Planes Mistaken For God", the real element that makes the album stand out is something that many current electronic artists are lacking. This is the element of raw emotion - in other words, real feeling. Although Finfer should be praised for all the original music, playing multiple instruments without lessons, and more which I'll get to in a minute, the powerful inflection of his voice and profusely poetic lyrics are what really draws in the listener. The passion in In Quicksand is so tangible that I can't imagine it ever being played 'in the background', since the moment you start listening, your mood is entangled with the mood of Ancient Lasers and you can't escape becoming absolutely engrossed in it.
Yet the passion became even more intense as I read about the concept behind the album, and the concept about Ancient Lasers as a whole. Although a hasty mind may at first assume the alt-rock album surrounds the typical romance or coming-of-age story, the songs actually tells the tale of "a conversation between my future and present selves," Finfer explains. "I’m sort of talking back and forth through time.” Curious as to what else was up the expressive artist had up his sleeve, I prodded a bit more on the story, and stumbled upon a meticulously detailed sci-fi epic, of which I'll give a brief synopsis.
Essentially, the previous and first Ancient Laser's album, You In the Future, tells the story of a musician that gets an odd package in the mail containing instructions and parts in order to build a computer. Being the inquisitive musician he is, he builds it, and immediately he begins to receive strange emails from someone claiming to be his future self. This future self warns him that in five years the government is going to release a plague called Planned Population to wipe out 95% of the world's population. They’ve been giving the people that they want to keep around a life-saving vaccine, and he was one of the people that received it. This guy's future self was working on the first artificially intelligent computer, but one day figured out how to use the computer to send information back in time, which is why he instructed his past self to build the computer - The Paladin is the same computer. There's more to the story, but the album ends off with the protagonist running from the government because of his plot to save society by creating a tech-powered antidote that restores consciousness.
In Quicksand, the current album in review, picks up where the first album left off - and he's still on the run. The futuristic computer suddenly alerts him with coordinates to somewhere. He buys a private jet and flies to these coordinates, which are located in the jungles of Africa. When he gets close, his instruments malfunction and he crashes. When he wakes up, he's badly wounded, the computer is gone, and there is a strange plant growing. He ends up being taken in by people that seem to be from a tribe, and apply the plant to his wounds. The plant emits "ancient looking lasers" that sew his wounds together and leave glowing scars. The tribe leader tells him that the last time a man from the outside world came around, he corrupted them with religion and sickness. Yet, the tribe leader decides to spare the protagonist if he will pretend to be an ancient God in their upcoming war against a neighboring farm that is trying to destroy their healing plants.
I won't spoil the ending, but the saga unfolds with each track, making the entire experience that much more enjoyable. The evolving beats start to become the futuristic world that Ancient Lasers illustrates, and they lyrics simultaneously earn their own meaning... or, you can create your own take on each track. Because the beauty of the album, really, is that it's ok to question things - your own existence, your purpose, your mission - just as the voice of Ancient Lasers seems to question his. From the commencement of the first track, we are invited into a psychedelic universe, an elusive dimension that serves as an escape from our mundane reality. It's a human reaction to a supernatural experience. Finfer delivers this other-wordly experience by mixing it up with a myriad of sounds, instruments, and tempos; listening to it feels like you're flying through a galaxy passed spinning rocks, stars and debris, having no idea what will whizz by you next.
"I really like stories, and wanted to make a band that is almost like a TV show, where you tune in every album and more of the story unfolds," Finfer told me. "It's funny because the meaning of the songs actually evolve over time because of the added, unpredictable layer of where I was at that point in time changing the intention."
With so many elements to his music, I couldn't help but wonder how in the world Ancient Lasers got started. I'm always curious about the process - did the story come first? Was he in a band before, or was producing dance music on computer software the origin to this project?
Finfer explains that he started making music when he was 17 when he discovered he could play multiple instruments by ear, without ever taking lessons. He started recording himself on the computer playing instruments for each part. Afterwards, "the lyrics came easy," he explains, since he always thought he was going to be an author or screenwriter. A few years later, by his junior year of college, he was making entire albums on his own. His last year in college he rented a recording studio with his friend Brian who taught him about mixing and recording.
After Finfer finished a solid demo album, he noticed a tweet from his favorite band from his hometown, a singer named Daniel Anderson of Idiot Pilot. The tweet said he was looking for a new band to produce, so Finfer went on a whim and sent him his demo album. After receiving the demo, Anderson told him he was "the first person who had ever sent him a demo album good enough to produce." Finfer created the name Ancient Lasers to tie in with the concept for the saga, and thus the band was born.
The band only consists of Finfer, but various live members and other engineers help him out during performances and collaboration on the album.
Beyond the latest album, Finfer blends technology with music in several very cool ways.
If you attended festivals like Lightning in a Bottle, Woogie Weekend, or Symbiosis Gathering, you may have seen a mean green, bubbly machine dubbed "The Funn Machine", an art car that wows and wonders. Tying in with the futuristic theme of Ancient Lasers, Finfer and his crew were invited to these well-known festivals to play music on the lime green art car, which is an opportunity that many upcoming artists would be thrilled to be invited to. "It's inspired me to rethink what a live music experience could be," he says.
Finfer is also working on a new project for Ancient Lasers involving interactive music and light technology. Sounds technical, but it isn't surprising when he also tells me he has an aquatic LED machine he built with his friend at SpaceX for Ephermerisle, an event where thinkers, creators, artists and builders gather to explore life on the water by creating a floating city on the Sacramento River Delta for a week. Michael Clive was the brains behind the machine, but Finfer helped creatively and conceptually. Check out the video below of the making of their creation, "Jellypuss".
Besides Ephermerisle in Sacramento, Ancient Lasers has performed with Altervision3D, an "immersive art installation that features fluorescent murals that come to life" with the help of special glasses. In other words, Altervision is a blacklight experience that has been featured at several events, even at EDC Vegas - and of course AL has played in one of the tents.
As each performance brings a different experience, it is easy to see that Finfer tactically chooses each venue and how the music will be perceived from the audience. He even notes that he spun a set at Bill Nye's Mars Rover Launch Party in 2012, a celebration of a pivotal moment in space exploration, which included guests Seth MacFarlane, Elon Musk, and the cast of Star Trek.
"In terms of future shows, I'm more focused on interactive experiences than typical rock bar venues," Finfer admits.
The artistic pieces are the concept pieces that Finfer had designed by Samantha Monarch to tell the story of In Quicksand. Petra Cortright, a famous internet artist, designed the first album cover for You In The Future. Petra was busy and couldnt do the second album but ironically Samantha studied Petra in art school.
Ancient Lasers has also had two songs featured in the movie Laid In America, a major motion picture comedy featuring a million random celebs and Youtube-ers like Chocolate Rain. The movie is scheduled to be released in 2016.
Although the scope of Ancient Lasers is vast, whether it be from his involvement in creative gatherings, experimentation with new advancements, and celebration of scientific discoveries, the theme is undoubtedly cohesive: the relationship between technology and human experience is beautiful.
As our world becomes increasingly overpowered by computers and science, Ancient Lasers demonstrates on In Quicksand that there is still gut-wrenching art and feeling in our lives. As the singer speaks to his future self through lyrics, fans can have both a smart and futuristic perspective as well as a raw and emotional one. In other words, although we may view technology as cold and impersonal, Ancient Lasers shows that ultimately we are the creators of our rapidly developing future - it's just up to us to find our purpose in it.
Download Ancient Lasers albums for FREE at Bandcamp here.
Follow Ancient Lasers: