Rob Nelson: My Avatar

Paul Whyte


A lot of different styles of music found their way on to my desk, but the four song album “My Avatar” by Rob Nelson is certainly one of the more unique albums out of the area that I’ve ever listened to. It is the fourth album that Nelson has put out. Nelson is a fifty year old man who lives down in Gordon, Wisconsin. He got his start in music at the age of ten at school as a drummer and continued to take on other tune percussion instruments such as xylophone and marimba during his high school years. His experience from such instruments transferred over to the keyboard and got him to where he’s at with music today.

As far as keyboards go, “My Avatar” is filled with synth arrangements, loops and electronic sounds and beats all created by Nelson. The first track, which shares the name of the album, builds up with an array of computer sounds, hand drum sounding percussion over a deeper synth bass into the vocals. The soprano vocals provided by Emi Jarvi, fall in with layers of airy backing vocal harmonies that are run through various levels of effects during the song. It’s difficult to describe everything that is going on in these songs because certain synth and percussion sounds are coming in and out throughout them. For example there are at least three different layers that happen with the bass elements alone on the first track; a deep synth, a more muted bass and a slap bass (think Seinfeld). Despite the complexity of all of the sounds, they all fit together pretty well although the main vocal tracks seem to sit a little higher in the mix than they should for some reason. Besides vocals, the only non-digital aspect in the album are some well done, yet pretty experimental, electric guitar parts in the last three tracks. Just because the album is created with a lot of electronic elements isn’t to say that the album has a sterile feel. Things are constantly switching up and tastefully changing while still pushing the envelope with random samples. I thought heavily about pinpointing a genre for this album or way to describe it’s sound. The album carries a sound that is reminiscent of b-movie 80s action flick soundtracks, except overall it is more complex. It could be called experimental softcore synth industrial for lack of a better way to elaborate on what’s going on with this. It’s not really angry, negative or heavy enough to really fall under industrial and it’s not really pop enough to truly be new wave or dark wave.  

Lyrically, the theme of the album is about how humans have socially and in other ways become obsessed and reliant on technology and the internet. “It’s really about computers and social media in our lives today,” said Nelson. “It consumes so much of our time and attention. It’s beginning to really blur the line between human and machine. We’ve become so dependent upon social media for so much of our human contact and I think there is a rather insidious undertone to that. What a lot passes for human contact these days is not really true human contact,” added Nelson.

Nelson feels that some of humanity has been taken away from a lack of contact  and there is both a melding and conflict between person and machine. With that notion, Nelson ties in the title of the next track on the album, “Identity Element,” which is a mathematical term that Nelson applies to human identity. “There is going to be a tipping point where we are not having an effect on electronics, electronics are having an effect on us‚Ķjust as with the Identity Element in arithmetic will have no effect on a given set of numbers,” said Nelson.

I found it interesting on two points concerning Nelson’s statements about this album. For one, the album is almost entirely electronic. The other thing I found somehow ironic about his project and his message concerning social media is that Rob Nelson’s Facebook site has over 130,000 likes, while the very well known local band, Trampled by Turtles, has over 100,000 likes. It’s not that whoever has the most likes on Facebook is better than anyone else, but the fact remains. Nelson has been featured on WOJB 88.9 FM and KUWS, the UW-Superior station and is not entirely certain how or why he has so many followers.

The album ends with the aptly named song “End Transmission.” The song begins with the famous annoying emergency broadcast system buzzing noise that can be heard on the radio during storms  or whenever the radio is playing a song you actually like. This breaks away into beautiful ambient synth sounds that come through like peaceful ripples. The song isn’t even a minute in where it becomes more sinister with a dark synth and sporadic electronic noises and samples. This gives way to a contemplative and pretty synth part that would fit in well with a role playing video game from back in the day. Just as you’re getting used to that, some fairly heavy percussion comes in with distorted guitar noises and an 80s-esque synth. The guitar is laden with effects I’m not even going to try to speculate on besides distortion. Towards the end of the song the listener is brought through a series of samples and noises over the beat of tom-tom drums.

Overall, this is a very well put together experimental electronic album. There isn’t a dull moment throughout the whole thing and the composition of it is terrific, especially considering this is one guy with some gear recording by himself in the small town of Gordon. The album can be listened to by visiting  Next week I’ll be featuring another experimental electronic musician who takes quite a different approach.


Paul Whyte

A South Shore native and University of Wisconsin-Superior journalism graduate. Lifelong musician, and former open mic host. Passionate about the music scene and politics.

View more of Paul Whyte's work »