Michael J. Peña Makes a Big Artistic Leap with Hamerzya’s Welcome, Strange Visitor

by Bram Howard

Hamerzya Welcome, Strange Visitor

With a widespread embracing of nostalgia influencing many in our generation, a lot of music has started to re-incorporate the synthy, electro sounds of the ‘80s. Among bands popping up here and there, throwing all sorts of darkwave and synth-pop sounds into the mix, we find Hamerzya with a brand new release this year. Hamerzya– the moniker for keyboardist, drummer, and recording artist Michael J. Peña– has a couple of albums behind him of instrumental, synth-driven music, but with Welcome, Strange Visitor has the artist incorporating vocals as a pretty central piece of the music.

Lisa Perkins, the main vocalist and lyricist for this album, adds a kind of contemporary pop flair to Peña’s layers of synth and electronic instrumentation, but still has a very fluid quality, fitting in with the period this music emulates, and remaining dark, paralleling the music around her. As oscillating synth tones sparkle, buzz, and drone, and Peña’s awesome, pounding percussion swirl around her, Perkins dances about, complementing the sounds in which her vocals reside. It’s a unique quality to that Perkins and Peña have been able to fabricate via these eight tracks, and one I enjoy a lot.

“London ‘79” starts with a reverberating, jagged synth melody before Perkins jumps in alongside electric drum beats, establishing a rhythm and phrasing for this song. Then the chorus kicks in with pattering hi-hat percussion, layers of Perkins vocals and a variation of the main melody, all perpetually cruising as one entity. This back and forth between the serious, marching simplicity and amorphous, dance-y chorusing allows for a really cool variation in song structure that brings the whole track to life. That combined with the breaks midway and at the end of the song of industrial, hissing synth noises, which sound so subtly dark and harsh, make for a sick– and different– electro aesthetic.

“Extra-Dimensional Pulses,” my personal favorite from the album, opens with synthesized piano paired with pulsing buzzes that go in and out of focus, so to speak, while Perkins’s now signature, beautiful vocals float effortlessly overhead. When drums join the mix, sounding like a straight up kit playing with these electric tones, they create that back beat that turns songs into moving dance grooves, making for such a cool sound. The chorus has a fluttering synth melody with a quick pulse that makes the rhythm much more frenetic, and makes the experience more mobile on the whole. Honestly, the use of synthesizer on this song is, to me, the pinnacle of the album, as piano will stand alongside buzzing saw melodies, only to be replaced by a phased-out, electronic version of itself, all glued together by the meandering, electronic rhythms. It’s just fantastic.

The title track of the album, which closes everything, shows off another side of Peña by taking a turn for the ambient. Droning, lower-end synth tones lead us in, sounding like this is just an outro for the album for a period of time, but are then suddenly joined by another one of Peña’s meandering synth melodies. This pulsation of electric sound is then joined by a steady drum beat and very ethereal, smooth Perkins vocals. The song has a much more atmospheric quality from its dance-y counterparts, opting for “feeling” and “vibe,” which I totally enjoy, and which is a great variation on Peña’s aesthetic, and a testament to his– and Perkins’s– overall talent.

Within the short eight-track release, Hamerzya creates a mixture of dance, synth-pop and bit of ambient all flying under pop-laden vocalization. This is pretty cool. Hamerzya makes what was originally music meant for dancing— or just instrumental, electronic art song— and morphs it into fully fledged tracks that still keep you moving, but have a very “songwriter” quality to them (if that makes any sense) as lyricism and singing are valued alongside Peña’s masterful synth use. I think it’s a great take on a pretty classic genre, and a solid mix of contemporary electronic music in its own right.

Bram Howard is a music writer living in Austin, TX. He also plays in Leche.