2021 music · My music

Seahorses is out

I took such an ‘exile’ from focusing on music writing this year (-cough cough- self doubt -cough-) that I totally forgot to update the actual blog about this album. Well, after many periods of stress and doubt that I’d even release the thing, I published Seahorses in full just one day before my birthday. It showed up at Vulpiano on 10/08.

Seahorses is a dive into the strange, alluring yet often creepy ways of marine life. Being my second archive release, these are songs I made back in late July (2, 4, 6-10, 11, 13) and December (1, 3, 5, 12, 14) of 2016. #11 is download-only. Given that I previewed many of these songs over the past months it’s become a compilation of sorts.

My inspiration was a mix of Spencer Nilsen’s Ecco The Dolphin music, ocean-themed library music like Eric Vann’s Water World and quirky old space-age/lounge. A particular riff actually reoccurs in about three tracks, somewhat like a library record or soundtrack. I was obsessed enough with this idea of ‘aqua lounge’ to make a companion mix of these influences for Vulpiano: www.mixcloud.com/camp_fr/vulpiano-records-12th-may-2021/

When it comes to my grand-scheme priorities I still don’t feel so good about focusing on such old material for so many months, but I can say that the amount of positive attention this album got made the whole process so much more worth it. My regret shrunk for sure. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a few people telling me they enjoyed my music, I’m just happy to know it wasn’t all for naught, you know? It’s also such a thrill to know that my self-deprecating, anxious 15 year old self’s music is indeed finding some appreciation when, for all I know, it could have found none.

In other news, this means I can finally try and put more focus on newer songs and ideas. I really miss getting creative with my music; the last time I really went ahead and finished something all-new was my song for the Thaw compilation. This early October I’ve been trying to give myself a break from all the project-related stress but I want to at least drop a couple of singles before the year is through. I’d love to get back to writing too but all I can promise for now is the year-end music list. I’ve had a rough year for sure and all this focus on Seahorses meant that the lateness of October caught me a bit off-guard.

If you’re on RYM you may have seen me attempt a top 100 favorite songs list for my birthday as well.

Mix

Just Breathe: a deep dive back into 2000s chillout music

Listen here

Warm up from your self-isolation and winter cold with a flashback to one of the most evocative sounds in pop and electronic music; from the haunting, therapeutic classic ‘Breathe’ to mesmerizing lost gems like Gaelle’s ‘Rain’. The sound of skyscrapers blurring together into endless bokeh lights; all the wooshing synths, e-pianos and warm basslines you could want. Originally a list on RYM.

‘DISC 1’

white flag – dido / halo – kate havnevik / let go – frou frou (imogen heap w/ guy sigsworth) / o papierkach – nosowska / midnight lounge + love hangover – jody watley / loving you – lemongrass / rain – gaelle / ho humm – moloko / take control – t-love / sublime – supreme beings of leisure / everybody changes underwater – dannii minogue / juz za kilka lat – iza lach

‘DISC 2’

slow down – morcheeba / you won’t forget about me (lounge mix) – dannii minogue / metro (from nancy drew: danger by design) – kevin manthei / a day in the park – ryuichi sakamoto / volunteer – grace jones / memory without consequence – takahashi & jansen / me odio cuando miento – fangoria / breathe – télépopmusik / fragile – kylie minogue / dizzy – siouxsie and the banshees / black cherry – goldfrapp / say – the creatures / goldfish – siobhan donaghy / conversation’s over – sugababes / have you never ever – margaret berger

Further Listening:
– My own Curios From The Background mixes, particularly #4 and #5
– The Hedkandi Winter Chill compilations
– Mono’s “Life In Mono”
– Margaret Berger’s “Mind Game” and “Naive (16)”
– Moloko’s “Day For Night”
– Royksopp with Anneli Drecker – “Sparks” and “You Don’t Have A Clue”
– Royksopp’s “Forsaken Cowboy”


My music · update

‘Fish In Oceania’: 2nd single for my upcoming Seahorses album

See my previous post for first single “Mouthbrooder” and what I’ve been doing this year.

Seahorses is a downtempo/’aqua-lounge’ project originating from way back in 2016; I was inspired by Spencer Nilsen’s Ecco The Dolphin music, the space age of the 50s-60s and ocean-themed library music from the 70s.

Tentative track names & sequence for Seahorses

  1. Fish In Oceania
  2. Floating By
  3. Manatee
  4. In Our Submarine
  5. Jellyfish
  6. Dorsal Fin
  7. Mouthbrooder
  8. A Wandering School
  9. Sand Dollar
  10. Blue Whale

‘B-sides’ “Lullaby For Sad Porpoise” and “Seahorses” will be exclusive to the download.

My music · On other sites · update

New single: ‘Mouthbrooder’ for upcoming ‘Seahorses’ album

Bandcamp

This two-song single is a taster for Seahorses, an upcoming 10-track downtempo/’aqua-lounge’ album I ‘fished out’ from my archive; it goes way back to July of 2016! I decided it had too much potential to leave behind and it gives more context behind my obsession with aquatic sounds and imagery. I’m ~hoping~ to release it sometime during March 2021.

‘Mouthbrooder’ will appear on the album, with b-side ‘Seahorses’ as a bonus track hence ‘hidden title theme’.

~

Also, long time no see. I’m aware that this is the longest pause between posts in awhile so I guess this is the time I let the 3-5 total people who read this blog know what’s up. On the one hand it’s the typical ‘life happens’; I wasn’t in a good place through most of 2020 for both obvious and personal reasons, and now I’m struggling a bit to get it together. On the other, that led to my many bubbling project ideas, over-ambitious as ever, to delay A LOT. One project in particular? It’s taking me SIX on-and-off months and counting. Ughhh.

In the meantime:

  • I did get around to uploading sample songs for 80% of my music projects to my otherwise desolate YouTube account! I’m hoping that some people digging around for music will find me there, but I’d appreciate if you subscribed! Especially when WordPress has this annoyingly closed-off ‘only members can follow’ system. You can find the full Spires EP there too, since that wound up the second MOST popular Vulpiano release on Rateyourmusic. It’s too bad I keep getting this feeling that I can’t get back on that level, in both ease of making the music and quality..
  • I stepped away from my ‘RYM front-page-review retirement’ to praise my mutual ~simoon’s new synthpop project, Bride. It’s a definite ‘lost entry’ in my 2020 list and she could use more attention, so give her a listen if you enjoy things like Pink Industry, Geneva Jacuzzi and space-age synth music.
  • Another RYM thing: I made a top 5 ‘best songs’ for my own music in hopes of giving viewers a more accessible intro to my discography. Yknow, now that it’s this weird cross between ‘archive’ and ‘all-new’ songs.
  • Other recent RYM lists: Mermaid Music, honey-like vocals and the best of 2000s chill-out!
My music

New EP for Netlabel Day: Liquid Forest

To celebrate Netlabel Day and mark my 2 years on Vulpiano, the first label to feature my music, I went as far back as I could tolerate. This entire EP comes from August 2015 just like “Garden” (which I lifted from Mint and Turquoise Trilogy). I made the songs on the FL Studio ‘replica’ LMMS since I couldn’t get Garageband on my old PC. I was a younger teen who ~played around~ with music more than made songs. It was “Sea Shell”, “Cold”, and “Garden” that told me, after three years of aimless experiments, maybe my music had potential.

Many things set these songs apart from what came before. For one, it was a transitional time where I was just escaping a long-hold paranoia, so this fragile sense of hope left a mark; as did my fascination with the ‘awakening’ feel of the early morning. Sonically though, it was my focus soft, trickling synth tones (a trademark for LMMS?). For that same trio of songs 2-4, I used the pentatonic scale and loved it’s soul-searching effect.

The result was this shy, secluded ‘virtual nature’ vibe that may remind you of Turquoise Trilogy. I figure my obsession with invoking forests and oceans began here. I felt I finally found a niche to focus on, so I stuck with this style for a few months.

“Sea Shell” came first. It was my attempt to stop fiddling with awkward loops and make a pure ambient piece. 70% improvised, yet it has more focus than most songs I would make for the next year somehow. It has this twinkly sea-side sound that would pop up in so many later songs; and this happened before I got into new age at all..?

My music

New song “Winter Into Spring” featured on IOR’s ‘Thaw’ album!

Honored to appear on Thaw, a new spring-themed V/A album by  net label Index Of Refraction, which focuses on crystalline electronic music. Possibly the most ‘me’ comp idea ever, so I had to submit something when I discovered the prompt in April-May.

I sent two songs by the deadline. To my amazement the label owner loves both! I went with this song since it’s the more ambitious one overall. The most exciting part is, this is my first time on a netlabel besides Vulpiano! 

The thing I liked about this song is how it sounds like a hybrid of several styles/interests I have: the new agey bell sounds on Gemstone Study, pastoral acoustic elements, 8-bit synths, and the ‘digital nature’ vibe on my Turquoise Trilogy. If you enjoy[ed] those things this is for you.

Go here for my other submission Ice Into Water

First impressions

Teebs – Anicca (2019)

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downtempo / indie electronic / folktronica / wonky

If you missed my first Teebs post, know I became a huge fan last year. Think back to FlyLo’s gentlest moments but more earthy. You’re dozing in a surrealist painter’s garden, filled with chimes and bird houses, where the difference between his world and the real world is fading. Sound good? Read on and recap yourself with my Teebs playlist while you’re at it.

Imagine my thrill when I hear he’s back from a five-year silence. How much changed since then? I’ll say a ‘moderate’ amount. Anicca settles between warm acoustic sounds, chill-out music and toned-down wonky elements. The calmer sound will let ‘glitch hop’ fans down, but it’s a natural change given his eyes for painting. As usual with Teebs, looking for Banging Beats misses the point.

I welcome this evolution, but Anicca tends to give guitar too much focus, ending in a paler sound. Beyond a few straight-up flashbacks, I want more of those chimes and synths; more variety. His sound is distinct and beautiful like before, but it’s lost some vital color. I began to miss the signature fuzz and grain as well thanks to the clearer production.

Anicca has many great highlights that show his ideas are still varied. “Studie” lets his cloudy synth chords shine, ending in the audio equal to an afternoon nap. “Universe” is similar, using DayDream Masi’s front-and-center guest vocal like a harmonious beam of sunlight. He graces “Marcel” with gorgeous bells and flute that would fit right into his last album. In a welcome surprise, “Mirror Memory” gets me thinking about FlyLo with it’s spaced-out violin; it sounds like old Teebs meeting new Teebs. He gives the Sudan Archives feature “Black Dove” a similar vibe. Given their unique styles and mutual skills for fusing spiritual and organic sounds, I’d love to hear a full EP by these two.

The crucial thing is how Anicca is still that breezy flower-field music at heart. Teebs continues to soothe like few others in e-music and I applaud his will to stick to his own path. I worry for his palette but I can savor Anicca for what it is and it’s great to have him back.

♥︎ – “Studie”, “Black Dove”, “Prayers i”, “Mirror Memory”, “Threads”, “Universe”, “Daughter Callin”, “Marcel”

 

5-Song Gateways · Artists you should know

5-Song Gateway: Keep Shelly In Athens

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This column highlights favorite genres, scenes and artists with the intent to make it quick and easy to get into them or decide if they’re ‘for you’. I’ll focus on obscure and/or prolific projects.

The huge (as I would argue, overblown) taboo surrounding the ‘chillwave’ sound left many talented groups like this forgotten. I’m thinking another reason for Keep Shelly was their silly name, and how their vocals and lyrics get cheesy. Still, I wound up endeared by this factor more than annoyed. This is shimmery water-fairy music at heart, and as long as you aren’t pulling an all-out ‘bananis and avocados’ with your voice, I won’t complain. These ‘fairies’ have soothing voices and fabulous scenery is everywhere, so I can’t help but enjoy the ride. Beyond that, they’re one of the most ambitious groups I’ve heard in this decade’s synth-dream pop genre/scene/thing.

Here’s the thing: KSIA never were your average ‘chillwavers’.  Unlike this scene’s generic corners, Keep Shelly aren’t ones to rehash old ideas. It doesn’t boil down to some woozy synths and pale guitar tones from a nerd writing gushy love songs about his GF. Like Royksopp, they stay adventurous at the same time as having a ‘chill-out’ appeal. They vary a lot from the structures and influences you come to expect from this music. Not every experiment works, but I appreciate their ambition.  Their one constant member RΠЯ decorates and transforms the songs as much as he wants (on lesser songs, maybe too much!). If this is chillwave, it’s a bold and shiny update. He has a great taste for expanding on chillwave’s water fixation, so give these songs a good listen if you fawn over aquatic sounds like I do!

1. “Cremona Memories” – In Love With Dusk, 2010

One running trope I love about KSIA is their taste for spontaneous ‘weirder’ or kitschy touches. This song has a throbbing sci-fi synth one moment (1:21), and a Tina Turner sample or vinyl scratch the next. Results will depend on how wild they are, but I love the way it expands songs like this. RΠЯ relies on a fairly simple groove here but throws everything he has over it to keep you engaged. KSIA don’t get too serious, and make things fun when they see fit.

2. “DIY” – Our Own Dream EP, 2011

Film scores aside, this has one of the most epic piano lines I know. A few chords and that’s it, but they play in such enormous and stomping fashion that it doesn’t matter. And those horns! Another great ‘what if’ move from KSIA.

3. “Flyway” – At Home, 2013

Relies on this one fluttery synth, but adds all these subtle riffs to bounce off of it and a weird yet awesome vocoder cameo. Another one where you have to ride the adrenaline rush. The best kind of repetition: purposeful, not too much, addictive, doesn’t take forever to evolve.

4. “Fractals” – Now I’m Ready, 2015

I don’t know, I have a soft spot for well-done wishy washy bittersweet pop songs. That is, if the right people make them, and of course Keep Shelly qualify. Really pleasant melodies, and the hopeful spirit is sweet. I love the way the chorus busts in with that Robin Guthrie guitar (guth-tar?) from the gentler verses. That little chiptune-y solo toward the end makes it even more satisfying.

5. “Hollow Man” – Now I’m Ready, 2015

This is where their ambition shines. The layers, the intensity, the oceanic textures, the twists, the synth soloing, it’s all there. You have break beats, gorgeous synths, windy vocal effects, huge build VS sad, hushed cooldown; vibraphone [!!!] fade-out… An exciting mixture in the end. Thumps like a thunder storm; when it’s music, that’s a good thing.

Deep Cuts

Dannii Minogue – “Everybody Changes Underwater”

On Deep Cuts I highlight notable album-only/non-single tracks, especially if they differ from someone’s usual style.

This lengthy suite should surprise you if you figured Dannii’s music boiled down to a more generic/’b-grade’ Kylie. With the downbeat aquatic synths, dramatic whispers and chilly title refrains, it’s closer to a lost Impossible Princess b-side.

More from Dannii Minogue: “Xanadu”, “Do You Believe Me Now?”

Artists you should know · Playlist

Artists you should know / Teebs

teebz

Teebs (real name Mtendere Mandowa) may be one of the most exciting producers to emerge from the ‘wonky’ scene. Some critics dismiss him as a mere ‘student of Flying Lotus’, but his music sounds steeped in earth and nature much more than in space, for example. Mere comparisons doesn’t do his unique sound justice.

What I love is the way Teebs approaches a song like one of his own paintings (which make up the cover art for his releases); he blends all kinds of shades together into a coherent result, from harp to piano to windchimes, effects and mallets. There’s this immediate flourish to the end product that’s so hard to pick apart. I’m reminded of fountains, antiques, rain, ponds, arbors, birds, you name it; the imagery is vague, but always blissful and refreshing. Listening to Teebs is like taking a deep breath and dozing off in some secluded garden during the spring. It amazes me just how well he translates his visual style into the music.

For a long time I couldn’t get into Teebs even if I admired his style. What I later learned was that, for all the links to ‘beat music’, his songs aren’t as much about the rhythm as it is with his peers. The appeal lies much more in texture and setting moods. People like him put a whole new spin on the idea of ‘background music’: it’s all warped through this abstract electronic lens that’s very modern-sounding even now. After all, good ‘subconscious’ listening can be such a cleansing experience, and that’s exactly how I’d describe his music.

Youtube playlist

Like with my Reni Jusis playlist, I intend this as an accessible intro to his music. I’ve also included at least one song from every major release.

In chronological order except for the fan favorite “While You Doooo”

1. While You Doooo (Ardour, 2010)

2. Monterey Park Bells (CD 2009, 2009)

3. Comes To Mind w/ Jackhigh (The Tropics, 2010)

4. Anchor Steam (Los Angeles 6/10 EP, 2010)

5. Long Distance w/ Gaby Hernandez (Ardour, 2010)

6. Verbana Tea w/ Rebekah Raf (Collections 01, 2011)

7. LSP w/ Austin Peralta (Collections 01, 2011)

8. Untitled 5 (Cecilia Tapes Collection, 2012)

9. SOTM (E s t a r a, 2014)

10. Holiday w/ Jonti (E s t a r a, 2014)

11. Sachi’s Chords (E S T Outtakes / Remixes, 2015)