More like this – Lukid’s Lonely At The Top (2012), Laurel Halo’s Chance Of Rain (2013)
When adding more 808s and the same 2-3 vocal riffs to old genres seems to pass for ‘the future’ in these past few years, it’s reassuring to hear something this hard to box. While his Dax’s mechanical, syncopated beats have plenty in common with techno and IDM, his background goes all over the place; from musique concrete to post-rock. He tweets: ‘It’s as if folks can browse my record collection through my music.’
His grainy, swamp-like textures have enough going on to reward close listens, but what double-sold me was the way each song transforms at such a fast rate. “I Slay The Pain” for instance. It adds several new ideas during any given minute, from a glitching piano to mutating drums to Dax’s own voice. In the end though, it has a coherent mood and every transition makes sense. These songs feel [i]alive[/i]. They work as a journey as much as they do as songs, with his beats bursting in all directions like we’re zooming on ships through his own future world. It mirrors the familiar cyberpunk dystopia but without that done-to-death synthwave slant.
My other favorite songs and moments:
The steely, mysterious synth pulses of “For The Angels”, resembling a more surreal take on space music. A fast-paced but careful build-up that hypnotizes me without making me wait whole minutes for single elements to pop up. Laurel Halo fans rejoice.
That mountainous, resonant crumble that kicks off “Catch”, reminding me fondly of Fever Ray. Like the rest, it invites my curiosity as much as it intimidates me. This cave has alien beasts lurking in it.
The way these hectic rhythms halt for the ghostly synth-organ and despairing guitar fuzz of ‘For 2 24’. The result sounds like an android’s-lament, equal parts creepy and mournful.
The menacing alien atmosphere that opens the ambient/drone track ‘NTHNG FKS U HRDR THN TM’.
Considering Dax’s struggles with quadriplegia along with ‘an almost constant schedule of dialysis, hospitalizations, surgeries, and recovery periods where he cannot produce, ‘ the sheer dedication he shows to his art blows my mind. If you like your e-music mechanical, exciting and/or distinctive, don’t miss this.
With such cavernous textures (all guitar except the drums!) it sounds like an established darkwave group. Their passion for this music is really on display. It does have a metal tinge but the tune is wonderfully emotive. Gaze into a giant cave with this playing.
‘A gardening robot awakens among hills, rivers and mountains, not remembering an inkling of its functions and original purpose. Something draws it to follow some unusually fussy glowflies and amphibians to the rocky mass of the Chrome Citadel, where it will rediscover just what it forgot..’
An ALBUM? From ME? That’s right! After months and months of absurd delay, whether it was figuring out what to do about the cover (initially I dreamt of paying the amazing Mossworm to do it) or trying to get the quality right, I finally have my second album and first with all-new material.
ONTO THE MUSIC: I got my first 8-bit plugin in Spring 2018; Short Circuits is the result. I was curious about 8-bit music for many years before, being a video game person long before a musician, so this was a great way to merge my interests.
It was fun to explore chiptune hence a more melodic sound. In spirit, I’d compare it to a late 80s or early 90s platform game; stuff with mascots and goofy creatures like Mario or Kirby. Like most of my more uptempo projects, most songs follow a pseudo-synthpop style. I mix the 8-bit voices with effects and external sounds too, often with bitcrushing. Even a piano here and there, including one (“Mountain View”) that I think Celeste fans will enjoy.
To spice things up I created a few new songs (1, 20, 25, 26, 27) and remixed 14 and 16 from previous releases; so it isn’t a 100% archive release in the end. When it came to bonus song “Toppling Floors” I liked it but didn’t fix some iffy clicking on it before it got stuck on a freezy drive (like the other original files for the album, hence tons of other WIP material; part of why my flow with new music went out-of-whack this past year).
Despite taking most of June to get the song volumes to work as a group, I don’t despise these songs upon releasing them! So that’s a relief and it gives me hope that some of you will enjoy it.
I want to tackle more VGM vibes in the future. To hear more of this in my music check out my first album Turquoise Trilogy, where “West Forest Field” and “Entering The Citadel” originate.
Those precious few traces of (spiritual?) jazz on Kelsey Lu’s debut get to shine here. While Onyx Collective give it a definite swing (vibes included!) the strings add a movie-worthy sheen, with ever-talented Lu probably contributing her cello.
The surprise comes in the second half, where it’s like the threads that kept the original tune together slowly untied. Still gentle and trickling like honeydew, but much blurrier. As I predicted, Lu has no problem adapting to both sections. She begins peering above those strings like a true jazz ‘siren’ and turns to warbling in a nearly operatic falsetto by the end.
More like this – Hello Seahorse!’s Lejos. No tan lejos., Reni Jusis’ “Motyle”, Goldfrapp’s Black Cherry, Rajie’s Espresso
Denise Gutiérrez’s voice makes this band stand out, mixing rich velvet-like lows with powerful falsetto choruses in each song. Their synths come in many colors but the vivid, reflective atmosphere they create is a perfect fit. Synth pop is my closest guess here, but maybe not the kind you expect. This is more of a modern cocktail party in slow-motion with moonlight peeking in from the balcony.
Sadly, synth pop keeps falling victim to cliches these past few years, leading HS to use the same old 808 beats. Beyond that, I think their ears for melody are getting a lot tighter here. This is a great kick-off for the new year’s music if you’re obsessed with synth pop and/or dreamy falsettos like I am.
Using more synths this time, Maria Usbeck’s second album emulates a digitized canopy. It’s another one where cold synths prompt human feeling despite their origins. Skeptics will claim they lack feeling but Maria’s music hasn’t lost any of that.
Which brings me to what stuck from Amparo: her incredible talent for calming the listener. Her travels in Ecuador to reconnect with her past continue to influence the effect of her songs. Like home, or what feels like it, Maria’s music relaxes with it’s everyday air. As she composed by herself, everything sounds filtered through her perspective. That is, besides the odd speech from Siri (!) or her grandmother. Envejeciendo is a traveling laptop’s creation.
What struck me about her ‘chill-out’ effect is that it feels so grounded. It doesn’t assume everything is or will be perfect. She doesn’t aim for escapism, as much as that works for other music. Instead, she uses this space to ask questions. Yet she does this without getting bleak; some songs veer on humorous. She seems to find comfort in more realistic conditions. Her lyrics concern aging (the album’s English name) and how new tech changes our thinking. I’m glad to see her explore these themes when few others do and when the cult of youth stays strong.
Envejeciendo peaks at the end with “Retirement Home” and “Nostalgia”. With the album’s richest synths and her own tender voice, they form a compelling mix of cathartic and relaxed tones. “Retirement Home” imagines ideal senior living, with metallic synth-bells adding a spa-like hypnosis. “Nostalgia” matches the title in seconds with breezy synth chords glowing like fireflies. As intended, it’s perfect for those fleeting daydreams of the past.
The drum machine beats are my main gripe as with too many recent albums. And I say this as a synth-pop fanatic! The issue is, no matter how classic the 909 is, the novelty wears after decade-long overuse.
I prefer Amparo but this is a worthy album with it’s own great ideas. It’s very digestible at 27 minutes. Maria’s solo career keeps taking refreshing turns and deserving a closer look.