About Me

Dom Lepore is an Australian writer and multidisciplinary artist based in Melbourne/Naarm. Writing about culture, he tells stories through music and his surroundings.

Dom has done consistent editorial work as a freelancer for publications such as Merry-Go-Round Magazine, listencorp, and Farrago Magazine.

Dom is a Producer for Farrago's student radio station, Radio Fodder, with experience in broadcasting, audio equipment, and liaising with local musicians for interviews.

Below is a selection of his featured work. You can get in touch with Dom at domleporecreative@gmail.com

Featured Articles

Explore a featured selection of my writing work below.

ESSENDON AIRPORT’s Musical Concorde Takes off at Hope St Radio

What looks like the heritage building of the Collingwood Technical School actually houses a sprawling artist district neatly tucked away on Johnston Street. Entering the towering structure at an early evening hour led to a courtyard with plenty of bustling activity, especially for a weeknight, was how I discovered the Collingwood Yards—repurposed from the former tech school to foster cultural and artistic production. Outdoor fire pits warmed up aged concertgoers, some blokes were having a ciggy after clocking off from the neighbouring record store next to Hope St Radio (a bar and radio station with its walls covered in scribbles alluding to creative liberty), which is where Essendon Airport, the piloting stars of the night, were ready for take-off.

Bar Italia - "The Tw*ts" | Album Review

The moody, nonchalant indie rock from UK’s bar italia is, paradoxically, so exciting. They finally received their deserved flowers with May 2023’s Tracey Denim – a textually hypnagogic, lethargic, and pensive guitar record with an echoey timbre and self-destructive narrative. Like its cover’s high contrast photo capturing the trio sitting unassuming, their music mirrors that, as if they accidentally became so acclaimed. On the surface, bar italia don’t sound technically proficient, but thorough listens swiftly reveal the complexity underscoring their chemistry. Their sound evokes the night. They soundtrack gloomy overcast days. They’re alluringly bougie. Also, like their contemporaries on Dean Blunt’s World Music label, there is a surreal but familiar quality to their sound, almost like it’s liminal. The inversion on Tracey Denim is indeed an act of taking familiar ‘90s art rock conventions and making them new.

Later in the same year, November brought upon The Twits – the noisier, Britpop-adjacent, and spiritually power-pop follow-up to Tracey Denim. It’s not more of the same, as the cover’s elongated bright yellow reading of the title hints at: more light has seeped into the trio’s dark crevices. It’s less monotonous and eerie than its predecessor, instead adopting a bluesy, chamberlike neo-psychedelic undertone. It’s creepily trippy – the brash, anthemic opener “my little tony” suggests otherwise – but every rhythm moves with grounded propulsion, like anything from Pavement’s thorny farewell record Terror Twilight. Better yet, The Twits resembles the ominous low-slung percussion of any The Brian Jonestown Massacre record in their prime. All in all, it’s a different beast. To then get more upbeat outtakes outside of the near-gothic country overpowering the album is a welcome treat.

The 2024 EP, The Tw*ts, perhaps cheekily titled given the band being shrugged off as provocateurs (the band’s own Jezmi Tarik Fehmi is quoted in Mixmag saying, “I don’t think there’s been a huge amount of exciting guitar music recently”), contains three would-be B-sides to “sounds like you had to be there,” a standout smoky dirge during The Twits’ final third. The first in the set, “The only conscious being in the universe” is poppy like “my little tony” and is maybe their most refined song. Warbled guitars vortex as if fed down a tube, Nina Cristante’s voice is as glistening as ever, but Sam Fenton is uncharacteristically raucous, interjecting with discordant screams that allude to another style change. “Sarcoustica” is an uneasy and mellow violin-infused acoustic guitar song. “drumstart,” then, features a punchy barrage of crunchy guitars and rushing hi-hats, with Fenton reprising his novel quivery vocal performance. People may still disparage bar italia for being careless, tired, or even pretentious, but their uncomplicatedness gives them their authenticity. Cryptic from being both ordinary and effortlessly cool – that’s remarkable. If The Tw*ts bookends their 2023 one-two punch victory lap, their next reinvention has much anticipation.

Fiery Internet Indiedom: Your Arms Are My Cocoon and Friends at the Thornbury Bowls Club

In this trying time of cost-of-living pressures, the powers that be are pointing to the heat death of the local music industry. Scattered across the Melbourne CBD are Greens Party flyers imploringly reading “SAVE LIVE MUSIC IN VICTORIA”, hinting at the threatening closure of live music venues. Festivals around the country are being cancelled left, right and centre—Splendour In The Grass, one of Australia’s largest, pulled the plug this year for the first time ever since its inauguration. Pitchfo

We Are Beaucoup Fish, an Introspective Review

How powerful is the divine inspiration for creativity? I recently read an essay from novelist Zadie Smith titled Something to Do, which scrutinised the question ‘Why do we write?’ Not expecting much, it was a profound reality check. Excerpts such as ‘carving a little area—that nobody asked you to carve’, and seizing an ‘occasion for self-improvement, [with] another pointless act of self-realisation’, completely mirror my behaviour through writing. Reading it nearly brought me to tears, as it affirmed the notion that I’m a mere ant next to a myriad of other ants trying to carve out their own space. In case that reads as unmotivating, I can assure you it’s everything but. I particularly resonated with one concept: attaining some time—some ‘space for yourself’—after exhaustive ‘anxiety and debate’, only to end up with ‘nothing, an empty victory’. There is all the time in the world to make transformative art, but does using that time for such a spirited endeavour feel ‘wasted’, as Smith puts it? Absolutely not. As someone who feels more like themselves—and comfortable—on my own, the need to do or make something endlessly flows through my life. The most powerful art is an experience enacted through the artwork itself. Its foundation is that those creators exist and do it for the sake of it. For someone to stumble across a piece of art, and forge a new thing from it, is remarkable. That cycle makes my time worthwhile, and the same goes for techno’s elder statesmen, Underworld, whose ethos similarly relies on reworking the art of other people—their words—for their music.

Bandcamp Picks: Mk.gee – Two Star & The Dream Police

Over the last year or so, an influx of off-kilter guitar pop artists with an electronic edge have emerged. The most prominent contender is ML Buch’s seraphic, dreamy jangle pop voyage on 2023’s SUNTUB, a trend that continued into 2024 with Astrid Sonne’s multi-instrumental GREAT DOUBT. Now, Los Angeles-based Michael Gordon, aka Mk.gee, enters this fray of pop rock reinvention with his latest record, TWO STAR & THE DREAM POLICE. The brief offering trims the cheesy fat off what makes ‘80s Phil Collins and Simply Red sound boisterous, leaving their embryonic fibers to valiantly breathe new life into subversive, sparse sophisti-pop.

Opener “New Low,” then, is a fake-out—Gordon’s display of his complex technical ability. An R&B song at its core, he chatters over a smooth soul groove as glitch, bass-heavy tones, and scattered amen breaks emerge. Only after it does the album permanently encase itself in a delicate, metallic timbre. “Are You Looking Up” is a harmonious, neo-psychedelic power ballad with crisp, chipper guitar riffs and ‘80s keyboards. Had it been released during sophisti-pop’s zenith without chipping and sibilant echoes, it certainly would’ve made waves. Gordon’s take is impressively futuristic like the work of Jai Paul. “Candy” is more of the same, but with glossy abrasion contorting the massive, crystalline pop rock riff.

The conclusive stretch seeps into meditative new age arrangements. “I Want” sees Gordon following Arthur Russell’s school of thought by playing an entrancing, percussive groove, only to erupt into a Jon and Vangelis piano and saxophone jive. The longest track at four minutes is “Breakthespell,” a slowed-down new wave comedown jam. Closer “Dream police” wouldn’t be out of place on The Police’s SYNCHRONICITY, being as warm and desertic as the English band’s own pensive “Tea in the Sahara” concluding said album—Gordon’s title reads as referential. From being an offshoot of Toro y Moi several years ago, Gordon’s newfound compositional maturity must be revered for curating an intelligent pool of inspirations. More importantly, he has forged a divine palette that is modern and ultimately idiosyncratic to him. Listen to Mk.gee’s superb TWO STAR & THE DREAM POLICE over on Bandcamp.

Eazy Sleazy: The Definitive 2000s Indie Mixtape

Most aesthetics are indisputably linked to music. A special beauty is evoked when listening to songs so strongly associated with a cultural moment, as they are so deeply engraved in its simulacrum. Retrospections of indie sleaze reveal it was nothing short of chaotic spontaneity. Dodgy Polaroid self-portraits, side-swept bangs, perpetually smudged lipstick and eyeliner; essentially, the hipster reigned supreme. Dressing with a hint of opulence, while owning an IDGAF attitude, meant you were ‘in’ with the times. It was cool to look camp.

Do you know what was the backbone for that? The crazy, overcompressed bit-heavy electropop, and decadent electric indie rock that crossed hyper-niche musical borders, all of which stuck as indie sleaze’s staple soundtrack. These ‘cool’ songs were distributed through Tumblr, MySpace, and music blogs, the latter now a struggling art form following the tragic unfolding of pivotal counterculture mag Pitchfork into the macho GQ. Despite this media setback, the aesthetic’s apparent comeback has also seen the music dominating the parties of the late 2000s become widely celebrated once more. Music festivals such as America’s Just Like Heaven have brought back the big names that scored these maximalist dance parties: Phoenix, Passion Pit, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, M83, and MGMT are just some on the roster. That, and the recent discourse substantiating the aesthetic’s revival, must be more than enough.

As we’re ageing into adulthood, perhaps what we need is a bolt of optimism to strike our lives, making us feel a blissful naivety once more. With the aforementioned artists remaining active since indie sleaze’s initial dissipation, it’s almost as if the aesthetic never really faded. More people than ever are in the know, thanks to TikTok distributing these hits to new generations, who weren’t even there for its heyday. The 2000s–era and its smattering of mashed up indie, disco, and electro rave doused in a vaguely ‘70s–80s throwback is still of interest. Its continued admiration has formed a new kind of indiedom within itself, with younger generations seizing its novelty, and those older—there in the moment—owning it once more. So, to revel in this kitschy nostalgia, here’s a musical time capsule curating the party iPod’s very best dancefloor anthems that made the roofs of those parties explode.

‘Dance Yrself Clean’ (LCD Soundsystem)
If there’s one sure-fire way to kick off a party, it’s with LCD Soundsystem’s most cleverfully boisterous song. Opening quietly, this portion emulates the trickling of keen guests into the home of whoever’s hosting the function, as they discover through friends that a party not to miss is already underway. Bandleader James Murphy emerges by mutedly humming beneath tinny hand claps. Then, unsuspectingly, as if welcoming everyone for finally rocking up, the beat drops. The party livens up as a sudden surge of synthesisers pummel your eardrums while you dance all over the place in the best way possible—without a care in the world. Murphy makes a profound call to arms as he vigorously holds his notes: ‘Put your little feet down / And hang out!’ Fit for any party’s initiation—or conclusion, when everyone’s living on one last sliver of energy—this song’s placement at either end of the playlist is appropriate; ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ is indie sleaze’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’.

‘Walking on a Dream’ (Empire of the Sun)
Aussie electropop heroes Empire of the Sun spearheaded the genre’s crossover into mainstream discourse around the late 2000s. In retrospect, their over-the-top, lavish costumes and visuals that bordered on the other-worldly and supernatural, mirrored indie sleaze’s grip on maximalism. ‘Walking on a Dream’, however, is the perfect middle-ground that balances the exaggerated extravagance and earnest artistry surrounding the aesthetic. The pastoral, psychedelic tune floats with a light acoustic groove, emitting good vibes with its key motif of coming together by love: ‘Is it real now? / Two people become one’. The song’s reach is boundless—American rapper Wiz Khalifa brought it into his world as ‘The Thrill’, effectively resampling it into a party rap jam. In any form, ‘Walking on a Dream’ is a unique deflection of indie sleaze’s overt hipsterism—it’s a musical comedown that paradoxically lifts any party’s spirits.

‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ (Arctic Monkeys)
It’s a no-brainer that the high-octane, raw rock ‘n’ roll of Arctic Monkeys irreversibly altered the indie rock landscape during the 2000s. If their contemporaries The Strokes had a sleazy undercurrent to their undemanding garage rock, then Arctic Monkeys in their infancy—before their clean-cut bluesy AM phase in 2013—held onto a sense of debauchery. The British rockers’ debut single ‘I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor’ is the band at their most authentic, drawing upon Britpop and the like. Whether it’s played at its original energetic tempo or dialled back with lead vocalist Alex Turner’s modern Bowie-isms, it’s still a banging tune capturing the youthful exuberance of nightlife that’ll never get old. Its enduring appreciation that extends to the band—who reached superstardom with this single—attests to its brilliance. ‘Dancing to electropop like a robot from 1984’, Turner exclaims—we sure are.

‘Last Nite’ (The Strokes)
Without the repetitive garage rock of America’s ordinary leather-jacketed heroes The Strokes, indie sleaze wouldn’t be what it is. Had they not emerged, the revivalism of all things blues rock to grunge—a practice sewn into the very fabric of the aesthetic—wouldn’t have existed. It’s hard to imagine a musical climate without The Strokes cementing themselves as a cultural touchstone for revolutionising rock. Like the Arctic Monkeys, their debut carries the most authenticity, but unlike Turner and Co lauding excess, lead vocalist Julian Casablancas explores the navigating of urban youth—the vulnerable side of the indie rock coin. ‘Last Nite’ is the definitive Strokes number that soundtracks both dancing heartily and post–party depression. On the latter, Casasblancas defeatedly says ‘Oh, people, they don’t understand’. No other rock song guilt trips us with ‘you just had to be there’ better than this one.

‘Standing In the Way of Control’ (Gossip)
Gossip’s strutting dance-punk hit sounds like the riot grrrl rock of Sleater-Kinney, only it’s tamer. Still, it soars with its own idiosyncrasies, like frontwoman Beth Ditto’s shrieky, razor-sharp vocals cutting through the song’s grungy guitars. Hearing her bellowed chorus, ‘Standing in the way of control / You live your life / Survive the only way that you know’, makes the hedonistic ‘lose yourself’ energy of the aesthetic manifest into reality. When we were younger, living without a care in the world, surfing the internet and all, this stilted Strokes-y stomper makes for an appetising way to feast on that. It’s giving responsibility the middle finger.

‘NY Lipps’ (Soulwax)
Soulwax’s bleep-heavy nu-disco in ‘NY Excuse’ is already a renowned underground phenomenon circulating in the indie sleaze musical canon. However, this mashup of Lipps Inc.’s famous ‘Funkytown’ takes the tune to a whole new level, by tapping into the scene’s eccentric ‘80s homages. The famous cowbell-heavy groover and its chirpy guitar riffs are distorted to fit Soulwax’s track with its sassy narration: ‘This is the excuse, that we’re making (we’re making)’, exuding a carefree demeanour just like the aesthetic itself, reviving past genres and tropes. ‘NY Lipps’ is a bizarre time machine to the parties of yesteryear that urged anyone to boogie; Soulwax successfully took us back in time.

‘D.A.N.C.E.’ (Justice)
The bit-crushed, electro house hit ‘D.A.N.C.E.’ is one of Justice’s best—derived from its parent album, Cross, which samples over 400 pieces of music! Its infectious guitar and bass lines, with a melody boldly inspired by Michael Jackson, puts any partygoer in the mood to dance. Although Justice’s jittering disco floor anthem has its origins in pop, the way it twists into something musically maximalist makes it a perfect fit for the colourful world of indie sleaze’s excessiveness. Its sole mantra becomes clear with the line ‘Just as easy as A-B-C’—Justice is right, dancing to it is effortless.

‘24 Hours’ (Sky Ferreira)
Sky Ferreira was perhaps the poster girl for indie sleaze’s unwashed aesthetic, once hanging out with the likes of Taylor Swift (who is, no question, well outside of today’s indie sphere) and donning mascara-ringed eyes and fashion with a vintage edge. Her discography is the ultimate summation of the aesthetic, since her output is largely frozen to when it was at its most prevalent. The ‘80s-esque synthpop ballad ‘24 Hours’ booms with heartfelt twinkles akin to New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, and sparkles just as luxuriously as Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’. As Ferreira valiantly begs ‘I wish these 24 hours would never end’, she’s speaking to the youth in all of us—we don’t want our carefree optimism to fade. The skyrocketing resurgence of indie sleaze screams nothing but a yearning for the era’s heyday, and with this song playing out like poignant end credits music, Ferreira has intimately captured that. A sincere, tear-jerking alternative dance anthem that takes us back to our exuberant glory days.

clust.r – ever chance (REVIEW)

One of the distinct progressions from clust.r’s self-titled debut is the immediate barrage of chopped up, happy-go-lucky chords that populate ever chance. While their former offering was also buoyant in its entirety, it opened with trepidation – a solid thirty seconds of spewed, hesitant static emerged – contrary to ever chance’s instant plunge into vortexing bass-heavy tones, toylike synths, and skewed acoustic guitars. This readiness to experiment owes itself to newfound confidence. Further proving this, ever chance is charmingly packed to the brim with collaborations – the voices of clust.r’s own friends. The cover artwork, then, adopts a new dimension – beneath the crackled, jittery melodies is cohesion, that being celebrating companions you can reach out to. If there’s one thing to draw from this nonstop, hyperactive half-hour of healing, a profoundly special addition to netlabel Business Casual, it is that clust.r is certain of who they are.

Self-actualisation is a prominent through-line in ever chance. That becomes all the more apparent when some astonishing full-circle appearances are recognised. Of particular note is tirestires, a direct inspiration for clust.r’s debut, who has vocal duties on steam and brood – a genuine “working with your hero” moment. Alongside them, every collaborator brings a personal slice of themselves to swim in clust.r’s ruminative pool of emotions, with their lyrical contributions adding to the fervent maximalism. As well, their buried voices submerged in the blaring noise, many almost androgynous, show that their penned experiences of strenuous relationships are universal, irrespective of one’s identity. The initial tirestires collaborative song, steam, touches on escaping intrusive relations like family and the army to gain greater autonomy. proud is a heartfelt track marching to a heavy beat, lyrics questioning what your past self would think of the person you are today. Meanwhile, parasite is a slightly detuned drunken mumbling about coping with being on the receiving end of supposedly trustworthy friends ignoring you. Each brooding catharsis is vulnerable in its own unique way, and comes off with a marked maturity.

Much of this kind of introspection pervades the entire record, as each friend voices their concerns above jubilant, triumphant fits of abrasive kick drums. Lead single imitation is a cacophonous dance pop tune carrying a shining, gleeful edge similar to The Go! Team, with its chimes evoking said band’s lackadaisical carefreeness. us pretenders is another highlight, featuring what is almost a skittering, looped ringtone with a surge of tinny acoustics fortifying the bouncy banger. It veers into emo pop with the cool-spirited vocal delivery and conclusive brash live drum cymbals.

ever chance is clust.r and friends giving their all, scorned and inspired by the trials and tribulations that come with maintaining relationships in an isolating modern world. Questions such as “Am I doing enough?” come to mind when all you largely have to communicate is through text. Even then, the album’s brevity attests to valuing such connections. On the closer ever to part, clust.r themselves sings over a dissolving lullaby, “If our talks were more infrequent, they’d probably mean more.” Savour and nurture your closest online penpals with respect – perhaps this epiphany, sad but ultimately rewarding, is what clust.r feels so certain about.

Geotic Interview: Will Wiesenfeld Is Creatively Comfortable on THE ANCHORITE

If there is one thing that Will Wiesenfeld—the artist behind Geotic—is admirably adept at, it is conjuring an atmosphere. The Los Angeles-based musician has a beautiful knack for transporting himself and his listeners outside of their earthly shells and into comforting fantasy worlds, unperturbed by the woes of mundanity. Compared to his most well-known glitch pop as Baths, the Geotic moniker beholds a much less seldom output, dating as far back as 2008. Starting as bedroom guitar experiments with chalky-sounding acoustics, then serene, stripped-back downtempo, Wiesenfeld has awe-inspiringly returned to the former fiddling with acoustic layers. The style’s preciousness resides in its stress-relieving nature. Whether that be cooling off or grounding oneself to someplace like home while traveling, Wiesenfeld’s cushioning musical layering gracefully brings one to familiarity.

THE ANCHORITE is Wiesenfeld’s return to this homeliness. Wrapped in cozy, nostalgic fuzz, his chipper guitars and piano notes are engulfed in eloquently placed textures which play out like a warm, protective embrace. An “anchorite” is a person who lives in seclusion often for spiritual reasons, with the album working as a guiding hand to navigate this concept. Grainy, occasionally dense soundscapes repeat for every towering forest tree passed, others revealing a mountainous monastery at the corner of your eye, while monolithic blankets of feedback emanate a swallowing beam of light divinely communicating that “everything is going to be okay.” At least, that is the imaginative, tranquil interpretation I am content with. Wiesenfeld has his own, and of the guitar-only Geotic releases, THE ANCHORITE is the album he’s proudest of for its cohesion and bookending a new chapter in his life. The chords are fuller, the loops linger longer, and ultimately sound like structured songs. For the creator to return most often to this body of material in his large output must speak volumes to its excellence.

As we were talking about the Geotic record, Wiesenfeld told me via Zoom that the timing of our interview was really funny, because the delivery of the album’s cassettes came down to the day of our chat. Now a completely independent artist working for himself and confidently acknowledging this sublime side of his discography, Wiesenfeld is perhaps at his most creatively assured. In what might be one of the first times he’s publicly discussed this foundational side to Geotic, I spoke at length with Wiesenfeld about THE ANCHORITE. He discussed its creation and musical inspirations, as well as his continued musical presence with collaborations, soundtracks, and Baths. The interview has been edited for time and clarity below.

What compelled you to re-explore the earlier Geotic “sound” of albums such as MEND? Did something happen to you?

Will Wiesenfeld: I don’t know if “safe space” is the right wording for it, but it’s a distinctly “I am capable of making this” sound for me. It’s something I’ve done so much, and it brings me on a personal level, as a listener listening to my own music, a lot of satisfaction because the type of ambient music I really enjoy listening to is not drones and long-form. I need a lot of melody and notes with it, so that even if it’s background-y, it’s still something my mind latches onto and moves around with.

It’s very fun and comfortable for me to creatively do these types of things. And I can do them rather quickly—I think I spent more time on [THE ANCHORITE] than any other of that sort—MEND was a couple weeks, so was MORNING SHORE. The functionality of it mentally is a track a day. It’s picking up a guitar, building loops and layers, and just being really nit-picky about it: “I like this, I don’t like this, I’m going to re-do this, I like this, I like this.” And then I have a loop structure… I dive into it with effects and layering, distortions, and sometimes in the computer add a few more layers on top of the initial loop.

Basically, it’s a very comforting place for me to be in to make a record like this, and this effort was because I had no idea how uncertain and chaotic the next few months were going to be. It was on the precipice of finding out both my brother and I were going to be moving out of our old place, and I was just like, “I have to do something right now to cement the end of the cycle I had of living in the place I used to live in,” to put a bookend on it emotionally. And then it also helped me see a more open future for whatever I’m going to do after this. It happened all at once.

I get you completely. I find with those Geotic records, there’s very much an element of homeliness or familiarity. It seems like that’s something you do value with your records.

WW: Yeah. I mean, full discourse, I’m literally watching a fireplace ASMR YouTube video in the background *laughs* just to bring myself down. Like, I’m in the zone right now trying to be creature comfort-y!

As an artist, with listening to and appreciating your own music as if you’re a fan of it, is that something you value in your output, and which dictates what you want to make?

WW: Yeah, I think, like… I don’t know how to phrase it without sounding like I’m tooting my own horn or stroking my ego, but I’ve said it a lot in interviews that I make music for me. I think there’s this thing with artists where there’s a certain demographic of people or a type of person in your life that you want to make music for. But the idea of making music to me and being creative is a completely thoroughly selfish act, and not in a negative way, I just mean the only thing that’s ever interested me is, “What do I want to hear? What do I want to make so I can hear it?” I want to make a record that isn’t this thing that already exists.

With this newest Geotic record, it’s very similar in sound to these older Geotic guitar records, but the effort this time was, “What if I made the phrasing of the loops longer than they were on the last record?” That was the first small effort to change it. That might not be something that people even notice, but for me it was a big deal. I didn’t want the loops to be so condensed, I wanted there to be larger phrasing and feel more like a song as it’s lumbering through it. So, all that stuff is very important to me—all the Baths and Geotic material—I just want to make records that I want to listen to. It’s the bottom line with any of it. I succeed sometimes, it’s not every time. *laughs* Sometimes I did what I wanted to do, but I don’t listen to it as often as I’d like, if you know what I mean?

Yeah. You’re doing very good, considering!

WW: Thank you, thank you very much.

I definitely noticed that the loops seem more coherent on this album, especially with the drawn-out lengths. Compared to TO NOT NOW, NOR TO EVER, DESPAIR, which was released in 2022, these songs really keep on going—they don’t fizzle out straight away.

WW: Yeah, there’s structure to them. Even though there’s a loop, I have structure within the way I’ve produced them, to make it feel like it’s moving through a song. It’ll have rises and falls and moments and stuff.

Also, for TO NOT NOW, NOR TO EVER, DESPAIR, that album was way more of a hodgepodge where there were a lot of tracks sitting around. Like, loops I hadn’t really done anything with, except for the very last track [“The Burning Houses of Parliament”], which was the very first thing that was original on that. I took those and produced them in a way that made the whole thing feel cohesive, so it was cool, but kind of scatter-brained.

And so that was part of the effort with [THE ANCHORITE] because I’m leaving this old place. I didn’t want [TO NOT NOW…] to have been the last record I made there. I wanted to do something that’s much more cohesive and a full, proper execution with what I like to do with that kind of material.

THE ANCHORITE is almost like the complete opposite, you were going into it with a full direction in mind.

WW: That’s what it was. There was nothing written for it beforehand, I just knew what I wanted to do. And so, I just made sure I worked every day and did that. I think the whole thing came together in, like, two to three weeks; it was like most of December I spent doing that. I think I even worked a little bit on Christmas or right after just because I really wanted to get it done. *laughs*

You often work on an album with a solid theme in mind. Is there a narrative throughline in THE ANCHORITE? The idea of an “anchorite” itself is sort of a person who secludes themselves from wider society, usually for spiritual reasons. I want to see what that all means to you.

WW: The word that sat in my head before I had “the anchorite” was the phrase “the apostle,” that was more of a religious exclusion kind of thing, going off into the wilderness or spreading the word. But whenever I was thinking about that, the dictionary definition didn’t really match up with what I was trying to do. And in my head, if you follow the titles of the tracks, there’s kind of a loose narrative you can thread together. You can make your own impressions of what you want that to be. I have my own version, that emotionally was what excited me about it and what I stuck to.

I wouldn’t want to give you the literal explanation of exactly what that is in my head because I think it’s more fun if people kind of build their own thing. But you can look at those titles as a structure, as a method of moving through the entire thing.

So you’re happy with it being an interpretative thing as well?

WW: Sure! It’s definitely true, I have my own feelings on what it is—I just don’t want to share them—I want to be secret about it. *laughs*

Yeah, I understand. With these past couple Geotic releases, you’ve produced limited edition cassettes, which are a first for your vast discography. Why produce cassettes now and for these albums?

WW: The first time around it was an idea my old manager had that I was really eager to try, and I think it went really well. But I was a little bit on the outside of how that process went. With this one, it was like I wanted to know how to do that fully on my own. And so, he and I are not working together any longer, and I’m in this place where a lot of stuff is going on and things are up in the air. Having finished this album, I thought it was going to be digital-only, but then I was like, “You know what, this would be really proper to have a full cassette release with it,” and now is the best possible time to learn how.

In trying to make that happen, one of the people who runs the label Hausu Mountain—@GoodWillsmith on Twitter—has put out a million tapes. My brain kind of defaulted to “I wonder if he’d be cool with me just talking to him for a bit,” and we had an extended conversation when we first spoke, something like two hours or more. Just about releasing a tape, what it takes, what has to get done, and he was so unbelievably helpful. Getting that together made the whole thing feel possible and I got way more excited about the idea. All the pieces of it became really tangible.

I don’t know what you’d think of this prospect, but with tapes, you’re restricted to listening to how the tracklist is presented as is. Was that something you also considered, as in this is the “correct” way of taking in the record? Like really leaving fans to appreciate the album in full with how it’s being presented, rather than shuffling tracks.

WW: That’s a good question. I’m an interesting person to ask that, only because I am absolutely bonkers when it comes to trying to listen to an album in order. I will literally listen to an album for the first time—once in order—and then I don’t know if it’s an ADHD thing, but from then on, I have to listen to it on shuffle, so that I never know what song is coming next. That to me becomes the way I like to listen to music, like, all music—which again, bonkers. But at the same time, even though I listen to music like that and it’s very off-putting for some people, I still like to put a lot of consideration into a tracklist because I know there’s some people who only listen to music like that in order. I think the restriction of a tape forcing you to listen to it that way only added to me wanting to make sure that worked as well as possible.

And so, the songs were produced all over the place. I didn’t make them in order, I made them just like, “I’m trying this, I’m trying this, I’m trying this,” and seeing what sticks. Once I had the batch correct, I was like, “These songs are done, now I want to move them into a place that makes the most sense.” That took a long time, but I think ultimately what I got from it was a proper movement through all the stuff where there’s an A-side with a correct start and ending, and a B-side with the same thing. All of that always becomes important to me as I’m finishing a record, to have things make the most sense for people who desire that. But I’m also in the position where if you don’t end up listening to this on cassette and you just shuffle the tracks, that is also completely fine, you know. *laughs*

Were there any specific musical inspirations you had when you were producing THE ANCHORITE?

WW: I feel like the early Bibio stuff is always there, like FI and HAND CRANKED. I was obsessed with those records so deeply and I think those were the first motivators for me to start recording guitar-only music. There’s no denying it and there’s something in the sound of those Geotic records that’s clearly influenced by that. I’m not trying to avoid that, it’s very, very obvious. *laughs*

But at the same time, there was stuff I wanted to do with guitar music that was mildly my own thing at first. The more that I did it, the more I got into the cycle of understanding what I like doing and what I like hearing myself do, as is with anything that you practice. Learning to produce, you imitate the artists you really like for a long time. For me, I just made knock-off Björk-garbage tracks for a million years that all sounded like shit, but at a certain point it starts to turn into your own voice because all the muscle memory for how you do things stays. And your brain has the springboard to move to your own space, but you need to have the foundations first. So, I feel that’s what it was with a lot of these Geotic records: building a place of deep, direct inspiration from these other artists that the more I did it, the more comfortable I got with using those aesthetics and being more of something I personally wanted to make for myself.

But Bibio is a very clear one, I also feel like the Jónsi & Alex record RICEBOY SLEEPS is always there because that’s a huge, huge influence on me. I’m obsessed with that record, it’s one of my favorite records ever. Anything that is deeply textural—I love ASMR, the video phenomenon and all the sensory stuff—I love that shit. Anything that feels deeply textured and lived-in and that sort of feeling is really, really strong for me. I feel particularly on the title track, “The Anchorite,” there’s the most of that texture—all the tracks are very thick—but that one has additional sound in it.

I especially love the guitar on that song. I listen to a lot of new wave music, which has this jangly guitar tone to it, so it was a real surprise to hear that kind of sound that hasn’t really appeared in your work before.

WW: Thanks! Yeah, the guitar part in that is pretty naked. I thought it was fun. A lot of the Geotic stuff is not masking but layering things so that they kind of move in-between and become less obvious, and the melodies are kind of all smeared together. But on that one, I kept on adding more things to the guitar part and I was like, “This sucks.” The main guitar part is “the thing” though, and I only added small flourishes to help accentuate it because that’s the thing that rips. So, I’m just going to keep it there. *laughs*

It is the hardest thing to just let something be, you know what I mean? Especially for me because I love making things as thick as possible a lot of the time. But so much of what I’ve tried producing more recently has been active restraint, like trying to pull back and do a little bit less than what I’m normally inclined to do.

Yeah. Even with my own creative endeavors, if you just add a little too much, it’s like, “Ohh, I’m not sure.” It’s hard to know when to leave things be.

WW: Yeah, it gets really rough. Especially with mixing because that’s the hardest part for a lot of people when you’re doing a lot of layers of anything for the first time. It’s just figuring out the balance. Not even so much that’s it like, “Oh, I have so many moving parts”—you can identify the moving parts because you made it—but it’s making it so those moving parts are comfortably identifiable to the listener and feel like they have motion and presence throughout. It’s a tough thing to figure out, but luckily, if you are making more-or-less guitar-only music, it’s a little more obvious. It’s easier for my brain to be like, “This here, this there.”

Is there a particular song on THE ANCHORITE that stood out to you as you were making it?

WW: There’s one that very obviously does because of the way it came together, which is “The Lime of Stars,” the penultimate track. That’s kind of been a highlight for the people I have shown it to, and it makes sense… The thing is, even telling you now, that’s like spoiling the record a little bit, but that’s the fun of it. If you’re hearing it for the first time, it’s like a really boisterous track for the typical Geotic fare. And the production on that was four times as long as any of the other tracks because I went into really heavy detail with the distortions I used and the rise of it because it builds upon itself so much.

It was another one of those things, going back to talking about the title track “The Anchorite,” where the main guitar part was just the thing and I wanted to let that sit. With this, even though I was playing with so many different effects, it was still just that guitar part—just this one riff where this is solid enough to last a whole song and I felt like it should. All I wanted to do was give it more size, presence, and feeling. And that’s what I did. So, that’s the standout one. I personally have other favorites that I keep coming back to, but everybody’s going to have their thing.

With this album coming out and you being content with its release—I know you’ve said on Twitter that it’s helped you personally—you haven’t really gone out of your way to promote this side of Geotic before outside of the dancey, passive listening material like ABYSMA and TRAVERSA. Where did the desire to share this side more come from?

WW: That’s a good question, too. I think this Geotic guitar stuff tends to be what I come back to listen to almost more than anything else from what I’ve made. Emotionally and dramatically, as this turmoil of the past few months of moving out of my old place came to a head, I just fully recognized that where I was like, “I care about this music more than I think I let on.” I think my heart was telling me, “I should treat it that way,” and give it its due diligence in these other aspects of releasing music. With a lot of the Geotic material, especially when I started, I would just put an album online. I had an AngelFire website that listed it all as text. People would be like, “You make music?” And I’d be like, “Go to the website.” It was just gray text on a gray background with no frills at all.

I’m at this point where if I want to be honest with myself, I care about that music a lot. I care about this new record a lot; more than I think I’ve ever let on to other people. This one especially just felt really poignant and better executed than most of that music I have made. I personally think it’s my favorite and best of those Geotic guitar records, sitting this far away from having finished it and how many times I’ve listened to it. I’m that proud of it and I feel comfortable saying that. I know MEND is a classic to other people, but there’s things with that record that I feel lacked cohesion and follow-through in the way that this one does. And it’s not a bad or good thing, it’s just a different thing. And so, this one sits in a really comfortable, proper place for me. I’m really, really happy with it, and I just want other people to feel the same way where I’m like, “I love it, and I hope you love it.” *laughs*

That’s awesome. I really think that’s fantastic because it seemed like the older Geotic records were something that was always there, but you had to go out of your way to try to find them.

WW: Yeah, I wasn’t good at promoting any of that stuff, ever. I’m also learning a lot about that. I’m 34, but I’ll be the first person to say I have no idea what the music industry is and how it works. I’m a fucking fool. *laughs* Every time I’m trying to do something slightly different, it’s like a whole new learning process.

I’m guessing all this extended initiative comes in part with having your own label, Basement’s Basement. How’s that been going for you?

WW: Good, but there’s basically not much news on it because the label started as a function to re-release my own music, which I think I’m going to continue to do. I think there’s stuff that could get re-pressed. I’ve meant to do that for a long time. CERULEAN still hasn’t had an anniversary release. We were going to do one for the 10th anniversary but missed it, and then the 15th is coming up at some point, 2025, is that next year? Is it 2024?

Yeah, next year.

WW: Jesus Christ…

I know…

WW: So, you never know, that could happen. I’m not putting that on paper as in “That’s happening!” I’m thinking of the possibilities, and the function of the label was to do those things. Moving forward, the more I figure out how to do things on my own, the more I might be invested in what the label is and does. But for right now, it functions as a source for me to be putting stuff out. THE ANCHORITE marks the 20th release on it, so that’s already a solid body of stuff going on. And who knows what’s going to happen moving forward.

Even outside of Geotic, you’ve been very active musically lately. Last year as Baths, you released a string of three singles and a collaboration with Bambina, “Boys Who Run.” How’d that track come about?

WW: Her and I are just buds, so we were just, like… I think the embarrassing thing was that song started years ago, and I just let it sit for way too long because I’m stupid, I don’t know. It was very, very loose. She came over and nailed the vocal almost right away, but then we wanted to expand the verse a bit and she wanted to look at the lyrics. It just moved on really naturally and organically. It was a very casual back-and-forth thing. She would come over to my place, we’d go work together, and we had that song by the end of it.

I feel like my fatal flaw with all music production or just writing music in general is that I never know how to make something that doesn’t feel intensely emotional in some way to me, for better or worse. That sounds really stupid, but it’s a real thing. When I’m scoring movies or when I was scoring for the BEE AND PUPPYCAT soundtrack, doing something that’s humorous or a cue that’s not super intense, you know what I mean, I really have to make an effort to separate myself from the music I have to create for those sorts of things. With Bambina, it was just like, “Do you mind if we go that way?” Her music is emotional, but in a different way. She was down and nailed it and brought way more of that into it than even I thought I initially did. So, it became this thing we both really liked.

Can you see yourself doing more collaborations in the future? You’ve mentioned that you’ve been doing soundtrack work for numerous things, but do you see yourself, as an artist now, more comfortable with collaborating with other artists?

WW: I want to say yes to that because I think it’s true that I’ve slowly been getting more comfortable with it, but I need to do more of them to know. Me being like, “I should force myself to say yes so more of that comes about,” is the right answer. The honest answer is that I’m always terrified about all of it. I don’t even know how to reach out to people to do that. There are so many people that would be fun to work with, but I rarely ever take the first step. I’m really nervous to do that.

Lillie from Lala Lala, to her credit, was very forthcoming right away and went, “We should do this, you should do this,” and got me into our collaboration. I was so thankful for that because I feel we made a great song together. It’s the kind of thing where I’m shyer about those things than I think I let on because I’m a very exuberant and comfortable person in conversation. I don’t know, I have imposter syndrome sometimes about all that shit, so it’s always nice when somebody’s a little pushy with me and goes, “Hey we should do something,” and it’s like, “Okay, let’s go make it happen.”

All that being said, collaborations are a fun thing that are a slight detour from what my aim still is, and that is to make records for myself, bringing it back to being selfish. That is what I like to do more than anything else in the world—make my own music—so I’ll still be doing that as my highest priority.

If you can say anything, what’s next for Baths? What can we see coming up soon?

WW: I’m wondering how much I can tell you… There’s a lot I’m sitting on and I’m trying to find the right angle of approach for it. I’ve Tweeted in the past that I have an album ready to go, and I do, but I need… It’s the same kind of thing we talked about for THE ANCHORITE, where I just believe the new Baths “thing” deserves more attention than I was at first prepared to give it.

I want to see if I can get a label for it for a wider release. If not, I’ll self-release it, and it’s not a problem, it’s just more work for me. *laughs* I’m trying to make it happen with the best possible logistics. So, we will see, but I think after THE ANCHORITE moves through, there’s going to be a lot more pull and focus towards making the Baths resurgence happen.

You can listen to and grab a copy of THE ANCHORITE on Bandcamp.

Hello Meteor – Maps and Locations: Jaladri (REVIEW)

Where do you like to travel? Do you venture abroad, exploring new and challenging locations? Or do you revisit places from the past, witnessing your outgrowth from those once-familiar sights? Whatever option motivates you, there’s a chance you’d need an itinerary to steer you en route. Hello Meteor, then, has musically mapped those directions that dictate that trip. The collection, Maps and Locations: Jaladri, contains instrumental new age jams decorated with a synthwave flair. Thematically, they convey the nature of the attractions and background operations dispersed across Jaladri, the fictional seaside town that Hello Meteor’s compilation curates like a tourist guide. It takes about 40 seconds for the tinny hand claps in the opener The Coastal Office Center to emerge, and provide an answer – an assuring one at that – Jaladri is at its sunniest and most welcoming for any visitor.

The computerised melodies in each song precisely reflect their namesake. Hello Meteor best displays the generating of directions in Map and Locations Service Terminals. This swooshing soundscape is littered with skitters emulating a GPS planning a route in real time. The echoed clatters are the kiosk’s gears turning, whereas the distant horns signal the traffic that may disrupt the journey. Every tick is another point plotted on the map that instructs you with where to go next. By extension, the album artwork resembles the unmarked grid paper of maps or mapping software – the heavy, orange dot is the final destination.

As Jaladri’s navigation systems coordinate you towards the journey’s end, your bearings are shrouded with both the known and unknown. The Vendmat is particularly stilted, carrying Baths-esque glitch hop stylings down to the sombre piano stabs and bubbly clicks. Its tonal trepidation exposes a possible underlying economic downturn for the town, prompting you to wonder where the soul has gone. However, Jolly Dry Laundromat shields those worries by diverting your attention back to the town’s enduring prosperity. It sounds like a pleasant stroll along the coast, as cascading synths flicker with new wave guitars woven into the background. Cozy Mart then adopts a swaying groove as you too walk through flashy aisles. The subdued mood matches your attentive scanning of the shopfronts, but there are few inhabitants to be seen, reigniting queries about why Jaladri has become a shell of its former self. In this sparser moment, Hello Meteor perhaps conjures the genuine worry of discovering a cosy, miniature town has lost its communal magic many moons ago. Be it the evaporation of local businesses or falling victim to gentrification, either instance is a terrifyingly true occurrence.

Service Access works as an outlet to gather information that will hopefully satiate these concerned curiosities. Its gleaming sparkles glitter like epiphanies about progressive policies and structural change within Jaladri. After a blanket of heavenly ambience, a barrage of drum kicks akin to Com Truise propel the song’s momentum, and the resolve to resume your expedition. The racket-y downtempo in Public Call Stations mimics the unreliability of those very machines. Metallic clangs ring like a coin slotted into a payphone, swirling through its insides until fluttery, uplifting pulses underpinning the jingle emerge – the sound of successfully reconvening with a friend, loved one, or family member over the line, while standing in solitude upon Jaladri’s vaguely familiar soil.

Again, Maps and Locations: Jaladri showcases to the listener – the determined traveller – the places to visit that comprise the land. It’s a portable GPS repurposed as music, but also a soundtrack for a genuinely experiential pilgrimage to Jaladri. Within the project’s runtime, the listener is left feeling like they’ve ventured to another land and back. Not only that, but it feels as though there’s a place like Jaladri in everyone’s lives. That one town – a home away from home – we have all visited, or have wished to return to by seeking somewhere similar, but nowhere beats this place for warm comfort. Jaladri emits this warmth and the chirpier moments arranged by Hello Meteor clearly display that notion. Traversing new ground might feel strange, as is the sensation of a memorable destination becoming unrecognisable, but trailing back to where – even on a first listen – it already feels like home is more than enough.

a.s.o. - "a.s.o." | Album Review

As echoed keys welcome melting synths, crushing drum loops knotted around a lustful, intimate voice awaken. That is how a.s.o. opens – the collaborative effort of eclectic house producer Lewie Day (Tornado Wallace) and singer Alia Seror-O’Neill (Alias Error) – and it is the modern reinvigoration of sleek ‘90s downtempo. The genre’s adjacent palettes of baggy and trip hop have already made a resurgence, and like that phenomenon, a.s.o.’s self-titled debut is authentic to their known and unknown influences. By matching the allure of early Sneaker Pimps and Bowery Electric’s scarcity on wax, a.s.o.’s mysterious guise is truly exciting.

What distinguishes a.s.o. from their predecessors is that those bands’ oft-gloomy and grimy soundscapes are instead drenched in a luxurious, glossy sheen. There is no savage imagery of an apocalyptic world, one carrying run-down metropolises or panic behind the Y2K turnover. These are simply murky, brooding laments. Meanwhile, the loops don’t induce comatose – very little musical stillness is present since a.s.o. is quite a lively record. Yet that doesn’t undermine its bleakness, as Seror-O’Neill’s voice, like an icier Elizabeth Fraser, entrenches a wounding narrative buried beneath the music’s attractive luster: “You act like I’m the one / Play with my heart for fun,” she dismissively says on “My Baby’s Got It Out For Me.” A picture of broken romance is served, conjuring an abrupt club exit while the night is still young, and the desperate escape to security. Defeat under a seductive facade is the crux of a.s.o. and is its staple trait.

Still, the trip hop worship and concurrent shoegaze and dream pop leanings cannot be understated. Certainly, it is easy to liken the duo’s entrancing hypnotism to Portishead, but I spot homages from other avenues. “Rain Down” is like Dido laying her majestic voice above a more daring, adventurous downtempo beat. “LITD pt.1,” the most cathartic moment for its sparsity, is a bass-heavy pause that rings beneath a cacophony of Seror-O’Neill’s choral harmonies – markedly recalls Laurel Halo. The centerpiece, “Love in the Darkness,” features a chugging, stripped-back groove muting the fantastical embellishments that comprise a Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas collaboration. Seror-O’Neill valiantly enters the melody like she’s Stevie Nicks, coating the song’s metallic textures with her caressing words. It plays out like a lost trip hop classic – it’s the duo’s Savage Garden moment, if you consider the album artwork – but only now has it been bestowed upon ears.

It’s not all moody – “Thinking” and “Understand” are some jollier moments – but they don’t detract from the album’s captivating appeal. a.s.o. is unequivocally the purest display of ‘90s-inspired trip hop in a very long time. The sudden collaboration between Day and Seror-O’Neill may be seen as meticulously crafted, almost calculatedly so, but perhaps it was to do justice to the genre’s frontrunners. I believe that – none of what’s sung translates as insincere.

Toppermost: Underworld

For those who are familiar with electronic music, Underworld is a band that needs very little introduction. Like most people, their smash hit Born Slippy .NUXX from Trainspotting (1996) was my introduction to the group, but it’s a mere footnote in the Underworld story. Born Slippy .NUXX is a song that’s just as omnipresent and transcending of the artist’s grasps as Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. Whilst the popularity of Born Slippy .NUXX has led to a pigeon-holing of Underworld, further listening reveals an endless rabbit hole of eclectic electronic music, laced with stream-of-consciousness spoken word. Their Spotify synopsis best summarises their variety: “It’s music for fields, music for tents and for headphones; music to lose yourself in and to.”

Before becoming all of that, however, was their curious beginnings. Underworld began in the early 80s as a cheesy new wave group, under the name Freur. After that direction fell through due to commercial failure, its two core members, Karl Hyde and Rick Smith, briefly parted ways until Smith met the young DJ Darren Emerson. In the early 90s, they reconvened to form what was informally called Underworld ‘Mk2’. Their collective intelligence resulted in electronica of a Pink Floydian stature. Their formula proved effective: house music that pushed the vocalist to the back; and the hypnotic melodies upfront. What also sets them apart is their artistic links to poetry. Their lyrics and titles search for meaning in words, shapes, and photographs that would otherwise be taken for granted, thereby instilling excitement into what is often dismissed as dull mundanity. These are pulled largely from Hyde’s observations, such as excerpts from overheard conversations and phrases that make you go ‘huh, that’s interesting’. Their visuals, inspired by this attitude, are created by the design collective Tomato, which they’re members of.

In 2000, it was announced that Emerson was departing Underworld to pursue a solo career. For many, this marked the beginning of the band’s subsequent creative plateau, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Underworld has since continued to dabble across genres and novel modes of music distribution. You know how Radiohead had their first full-fledged digital release, In Rainbows, in 2007? Underworld beat them to it with their Riverrun series in 2005. How about releasing new music weekly and having their live audiences recognise it within days of release? The Drift project was on top of that in 2019. They even directed the music for the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony! Whilst Emerson’s contributions are missed, to say that Underworld became worse off without him would be to blatantly lie.

Although I’ve been able to provide a succinct overview of Underworld’s history, condensing their eclectic artistry to only 10 tracks is a formidable, nearly impossible task. My amping up of their musicianship is not due to personal bias either – they really are that good. The duo still working together after forty years is clearly a testament to that. There’s so much more to say about Underworld, maybe even too much, but I will try to be brief in my admiration. Let’s take a glimpse into the many years Underworld has existed, covering all bases from hard-hitting techno to esoteric poetic bliss. If you’ve enjoyed these samples, I promise you this – there’s so much more to explore.

The best way to start an Underworld curation is with my favourite opener, Cups. Taken from Beaucoup Fish (1999), their most commercially successful album, Underworld became a bit conventional by tapping into Born Slippy .NUXX’s success. However, many intricacies can still be heard. Cups is what I’d call ‘epic house’, structured as a gradual, unwinding voyage unsuspectingly ending with a crushing adrenaline rush. Its first portion is loungey, almost seductive, with Hyde’s romantic vocals drenched in vocoder: Bubble girl you feel like a movie. Nautical synths bubble above the steady bassline and tinny hi-hats, until more urgent percussion kicks in.

With Dripslowdown, Hyde’s singing concludes – the chillout session is over. The aquatic fishbowl well-roundedness of Cups loses its shape, dissolving into a percussive whirlpool. Any remnants of its initial tranquil are long gone. There’s now only techno with lofty momentum. The execution of this deceitful tease is genius. For me, the song’s careful unwind has soundtracked distant memories, countless road trips, walks, moments of study, and spins on the turntable. No matter how many times I hear the sappy romantic strings that wake up the tune, it’ll never get old.

Their one song that perfectly conveys all connotations of the word ‘underworld’: deep, dark, and propulsive. Dark Train is a reimagination of Dark & Long, which opened their Mk2 debut, Dubnobasswithmyheadman (1994). The latter was subject to a tapestry of remixes representing Underworld’s own remix culture – shredding the fibres of their already-existing songs to repurpose them as radically different versions. Dark Train is the epitome of this process.

Dark Train doesn’t need extensive dissection. It may as well be tech trance of the highest calibre. Its unfolding, brooding bass groove paves way for a surge of flashing synths. As soon as Hyde begins the repetition of Ride the train, you’re fully immersed in this tactical nocturnal weapon of the dancefloor. You can feel the supersonic carriage. All aboard the train.

The other side of the coin to Dark Train’s gloaming is the pure unadulterated positivity of Two Months Off. A bird tells a silly anecdote about a guy named Alex, until the jumpy percussion invites a cascade of twinkly waterfalling synths. These blankets of relentlessly uplifting energy become more powerful, especially once Hyde finally steps into the limelight exclaiming: You bring light in!

It’s a no-brainer that Two Months Off is a live staple. It’s music’s equivalent of incessant elation. They’ve rarely emulated this stadium electro style, only twice more with Scribble (Barking, 2010) and Listen To Their No (Drift Series 1, 2019), but neither beat the original. Two Months Off is Underworld proving they still had it in them post-Emerson, but it’s also a helping hand. Every time this exhilarating blast of positivity comes on, no matter how many times I’ve already heard it, the urge to cry is impossible to resist. It always puts me back on my feet. It’s Underworld at the height of their powers.

In their early heyday, Underworld had a strong emphasis on a vivid yet hallucinatory atmosphere. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You is the longest cut on Dubnobasswithmyheadman, but its drawn-out length is purposeful. The album bridged the gap between rave music and indie rock, forging a vocal electronic album not only for dancing, but also attentive listening. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You sees Underworld’s poetic puzzle pieces all put together.

This song plays out like a movie. The street ambience fades into a chugging groove, lending itself to Hyde’s mystifying dialogue: 30,000 feet above the Earth / It’s a beautiful thing. Underworld transports the listener to these heights, soaring past dingy, metropolitan skylines. Simultaneously, it’s also like drunkenly stumbling through the worn-down labyrinthine alleyways of the city: I see Elvis … I see porn dogs sniffing the wind. It and the rest of Dubnobass are brilliant for their unique urban aesthetics, down to the art direction and imagery they conjure: a gritty, grimy cityscape.

When the promiscuous sleaze dies down, the listener enters sobriety. It’s amazing how quickly Underworld can switch from one mood to another in the same track, without it being jarring. Mmm…Skyscraper I Love You concludes with a heavenly synthpop beat informally titled After Sky. It’s a magical piece. Here, the sun has finally started to rise, and one proclamation best suits this moment: mmm… Underworld, I love you.

Life, it’s a touch / Everything is golden, Hyde opens impassioned. Life is indeed beautiful. I Exhale introduces Underworld’s 2016 album which also had their longest gap between releases – six years! It’s titled Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future, and all interviews mention the amends the duo made with each other exiting their hiatus. The resultant record, much like their reconvened friendship, is their most pastoral and sublime. Although I Exhale may initially seem otherwise with its mechanical denseness, it’s a cacophony of liberation.

Gargantuan crashing bells ring between the ears, curls of glittery feedback appear, then Hyde precariously notes his surroundings. I Exhale is largely unchanging in its eight-minute duration, but that doesn’t dismiss the impeccable production on this banger. How did they even produce the sounds on this? Corrugated rhythms, Hyde brings up – the music’s screeching, towering industrial cries resemble exactly that.

Tree And Two Chairs arrives fascinatingly late in Underworld’s career, during the Drift series. It was a year-long public experiment in 2019, where Hyde and Smith released a new song and accompanying film every Thursday. The result was more Underworld music being released in one year than in the past two decades. In other words, an entire career’s worth, gifted to fans forty years into their career – that’s downright unheard of! So too was the range of musical diversity they covered: acid techno, spoken word, and even avant-garde jazz.

Avid fans might think Tree And Two Chairs is a peculiar choice for a favourite song. It’s instrumental and more so background music, but its sound design is impeccable; it softly opens with bubbly minimal techno that melts and sparkles separately in each ear, whilst staying in tune with the crispy nu jazz percussion. It’s effervescent, smooth, and filled with enthralling polyrhythms.

Halfway through the trip, the keyboards become more pronounced, as ambient pads begin to lift both the soundstage and listener. A gorgeous subtle saxophone embellishment from Lewis Evans of Black Country, New Road (a bandmate in Hyde’s daughter’s band) farewells the adventure. This luminous musicianship through natural instrumentation makes Tree And Two Chairs an exciting outlier in the band’s discography. By moving away from their signature fusion of progressive house and techno, Underworld flex their complex musical muscles. Truly spellbinding music; no one else does it like Underworld.

Like Tree And Two Chairs, this is another fascinating addition to the list because of its newness. Denver Luna is one of a few new Underworld songs debuted live in 2023. Many others at this point in their career might prefer to settle down and revel in being a legacy act, however, a legacy act they are not. Underworld continue to prove themselves as forward-thinkers by bestowing one of their most visceral techno tunes upon ears after forty years in the game.

It has all the ingredients for a quintessential Underworld song, representative of their namesake: an unrelenting build-up, kinetic hi-hats, and Hyde’s free-form poetry about things like a strawberry jam girl and a man in stone wash jeans. As Hyde’s delivery becomes more intense, so does the music. It’s reminiscent of Spoonman from Dubnobasswithmyheadman, with the consistent building of layers and words plastered above it. It’s as if the 90s Underworld never left; energy cut from the same cloth yet with a newly lustrous sheen.

The most beautiful thing to come from Denver Luna is its a cappella track of the climactic crescendo. Even with just their voices, Underworld bring me to tears. It takes a great amount of valiance to present any song dismantled like so, but Underworld are absolutely capable. The interplay between Hyde’s raw voice and Smith’s, beautifully vocoded, is emblematic of their long-lasting creative partnership. An enthralling harmony and unbelievably late-career innovation. Denver Luna is comfortably an Underworld classic.

The next snippet from the Drift project is Border Country, a collaboration with English techno producer Ø [Phase]. Collaborations are novel in Underworld’s discography, but Drift made them the norm.

Border Country deserves a placement because of how viscerally electric it is. It recalls the raving breakbeat of Pearl’s Girl (Second Toughest In The Infants, 1996) and dark build-up of Born Slippy .NUXX. Fizzling hi-hats repeatedly chatter until Hyde’s voice, like a big unwavering flag, envelops the listener until a blasting cacophony of cyclone vocals commence an aural assault. As you think it peters out, your certainty ricochets you with another crescendo to the ears. In the live setting, that sneaky drop can be felt at the very pits of your stomach. It’s the pinnacle of Underworld’s techno side.

What’s even more impressive, like the rest of Drift, is how late into their career this was conceived. At the time, they were just shy of forty years working together. Hyde and Smith have never lost their touch over the decades. Still remaining true to their original sound, while leaving room for innovation – the sheer ferocity and drive in Border Country attests to that.

My favourite of their multipart songs is the second journey on Second Toughest In The Infants, which is preceded by Juanita : Kiteless : To Dream of Love, an oft-contender for anyone’s top ten. As much as I adore that entrancing soundscape, personally, it narrowly falls below the atmospheric drum ‘n’ bass of Banstyle/Sappy’s Curry. Where Dubnobass fostered an urban atmosphere, Second Toughest takes that further, opting for cruisy breakbeat conjuring neon-lit nightlife. The smeared bleached blue strokes across its cover artwork reflect the looseness of this very song.

Hyde’s opening words are simple yet profound: If they don’t know / And they don’t know / They’re gonna find out soon enough. For any young person, it’s a mantra as optimistically resonant as any classic Oasis tune – you stand out from the rest. This wordplay continues in the Banstyle portion, until it fades into street ambience and the downtempo acoustic-laden bliss of Sappy’s Curry.

Now, we’re leaving the city. We’re going elsewhere, somewhere far and away from mundanity, levitating at the same time. The music steadily creeps forward, with acid squelches flickering beneath Hyde’s seductive whispers. The cathartic climax is onset, jittering at first – initially unsure of itself – but we’re proven wrong. The hypervigilant whirling synths swarm the ears, as you’ve reached nirvana. Anyone would want to live in that moment forever as the colourful squeals keep you twirling upward. There’s no grimy cityscape anymore, neither is there claustrophobic suburbia – there’s only being enveloped in total bliss. As much as I’ve already heralded this band, I’ll admit, they’ll never do it like this again. That ‘it’ can only be properly understood by giving this spiritual journey a full listen.

The mid–2000s were an interesting period for Underworld, experimenting and performing their most prolific live shows. Producing hundreds of tracks scattered across the digital Riverrun EPs, webcasts, live improvs, and for their next studio albums – they were working like a machine. Emerson was essential, certainly, but they somehow became even more abstruse without him. Some of their music from this era could’ve been neatly collated into a single album.

Note the “could’ve”. The truth is that Hyde and Smith’s working relationship was very strenuous at this time. They’ve since made amends, as noted earlier, but tracks often feel unfinished and the lack of dialogue between them dampened what could’ve been. You Do Scribble is the ‘what could’ve been’.

Its final appearance was brutally neutered on Barking, where their forward-thinking songs of the mid-2000s were sterilised by external producers, resulting in Underworld’s most commercial-sounding and, dare I say, dated record. It’s not all bad, though. The finished product, neatly titled Scribble, is an uplifting drum ‘n’ bass anthem with help from Welsh electronic music producer High Contrast. It’s outrageously happy, optimistic, and life-affirming.

Meanwhile, You Do Scribble, an outtake officially delivered on Barking’s deluxe edition, strips down this polished sugar rush for back-to-basics breakbeat. It’s an insurmountable beast of rapid and intelligent drum sampling. Once the glimmering synth stabs slow down, the song does too – we’ve entered the comedown. Meditative, oneiric ambience comforts the listener from the hyperactive drumbeats. Somehow, it feels like the culmination of techno.

The saddest part is how overlooked it is. You Do Scribble is viscerally nocturnal, and yet glows with rave culture’s gleeful tolerance. It’d be a marvel on the dancefloor, but even at home, this composition begs to be listened to for its bombastic punch. In their entire oeuvre, it is by far one of Underworld’s most overlooked compositions.

It’s remarkable that, essentially, two retirement village lads are putting on the best electronic live show today. They remain in top form in the studio as well – my selections cover decades of Underworld’s existence. Those choices weren’t by accident; very few artists, even their contemporaries, have remained as consistent and prolific as Underworld. Sure, they’ve had their gaps in output, but it speaks volumes when any artist’s song from 2023 can justifiably stand alongside one from 1994 in a top 10 list.

My words might only do so much to sway you into exploring Underworld’s discography. I might be wholly obsessed, but good music is good music. My ethos is that any good music deserves to be heard. If you love and enjoy music, please, you need to try to experience the spellbinding, entrancing soundscapes that Underworld crafts. There’s a song for every occasion and they’ve engaged with music in ways that most bands haven’t. Their longevity as musicians and friends must account for something special. What’s next is that you give them a go and discover the rest for yourself. Underworld will eternally prevail, so long as people keep on listening deeply and they keep on creating, until the very end of time. A mere electronic band they are not; creative geniuses they are.

The spectral avant-folk of Arthur Russell’s Picture of Bunny Rabbit

The meditative primordial songcraft of Arthur Russell may very well be the highest calibre of earnest artistry. He was a key player in shaping New York’s downtown mutant disco scene (1981’s 24→24 Music), laid the foundation for ‘80s arty, sophisti-pop (2004’s Calling Out of Context), and even ventured into folk rock eliciting Bob Dylan comparisons (2019’s Iowa Dream). Many of these accomplishments, though, were cemented years after the fact. Russell’s sole mission statement under his name was 1986’s World of Echo, best described by the caption bearing this record’s sleeve: “crossing the line from vocal to instrumental and back”. In the next six years, his eccentric sonic exploration curtailed, due to his tragic and untimely passing from AIDS-related illnesses in 1992. Russell’s estate at Audika Records has meticulously unearthed his plethora of unmarked tapes, collating his work to keep his spirit alive for today’s generations. Consequently, Russell’s omnipresence in modern music is as ghostly as the man himself, with his music and history being posthumously pieced together.

The enigmatic Picture of Bunny Rabbit from 2023 comprises songs that didn’t make it onto World of Echo. In the latter collection, he quietly redefined minimalism in music, merely with spectral howls and his signature screeching cello. It is the culmination of his mind that was impossible to decipher. The electroacoustic and folk leanings are gorgeously tranquil, yet sparse as they are dense. It’s as if Russell dismantled every fibre of what constitutes a conventional song. Ambient and dub influences are present, but his soft voice ultimately plants his music in pop. Naturally, World of Echo is challenging, but eternally rewarding. It’s of the utmost avant-garde in musical works, however, this new compilation makes for an easier listen. Its brevity lends itself to greater accessibility, but surprises lie within—entrances to a world parallel to ours.

To reiterate, much like Russell, Picture of Bunny Rabbit is phantasmal. The way his photograph catches him precariously paints him as a rabbit-like apparition, swiftly escaping our grasp but still moving around. Listening to the songs is the same as conversing with him, where he delivers his psyche as brooding laments. ‘Not Checking Up’ is especially nocturnal, featuring his woeful mumbles about juggling external commitments: ‘It’s the only day / I’m off work / It’s the only time / I have at all’. ‘In the Light of a Miracle’ is like a prehistoric dance chant, with his dissonant cello guiding the way. Warbling synthesisers permeate the sparsity, akin to gentle ripples in a small pool of water. Russell’s repeating of his exclamations like a wisp—‘Holding in the light / Walking in the light’—infers a sense of hope in his oft-ominous poetry. Reaching the light, albeit in glimpses, is possible in the series of ‘Fuzzbuster’ instrumentals. ‘#10’ opens the collection with keyboards sounding pleasant bells, greeting the listener to the conversely suffocative musical emptiness. ‘#09’ is propulsive and beguiling, soundtracking moonless high deserts. Meanwhile, wistful ‘#06’ is the most impressive, evoking the same innocent self-restraint of indie bands Young Marble Giants and early the xx, marvellously foreshadowing the latter’s nightly indie pop of today. Russell’s twinkling acoustic guitar, harmonising with the funereal cello, is a sublime remedy for the disconcerting soundscapes in-between.

The album’s true centrepiece, uncharacteristically lurid, is the titular track, ‘Picture of Bunny Rabbit’. Russell was no stranger to long-form improvisation, but the allure of this voyage is implausibly isolated from his usual forte. No recorded music up to that point (1985–86) sounded like it. To me, it conjures a spellbinding pilgrimage into lucid imagination. Abrasive arpeggios bloat with distortion and glitch, as though trying to make sense of the surroundings. Bitcrushed cellos fleetingly hop around, as liberated as a jovial bunny. They don the uncanny strangeness of a grovelling anthropomorphic rabbit in a dapper suit. Familiar images, thoughts, and memories become crystallised, skittering as the disseverance from the physical plane continues. Russell’s bellowed cello shrieks like discordant church bells, leaving gashes on the eardrums. An incessant strangle by the incoherence. The gloaming is blood red like the eyes of a white rabbit, and only the listener in that moment is facing the discordance of inner scrutiny. Is this still the same Russell who dreamily mopes with his off-kilter baritone? By the conclusive stretch, when fully separated from oneness, it seems impossible. His only remnant is his cello, which cascades further into malevolence, until the haunting ringing abruptly peters out. Back at present. For those eight minutes, the listener is the only recipient of this labyrinthine, effusive ceremony. It is by far Russell’s most visceral piece bestowed upon ears, which otherwise would’ve been concealed eternally if not for his estate—stunning and beautifully chilling.

Russell’s thorough musical deconstruction was merely one facet of many. His curious art pop predates that of Peter Gabriel’s heyday, and even had a collaboration with the Talking Heads under his belt. When he wasn’t caressing his cello to sound a buoyant heart like skipping over water, Russell was at his most esoteric. The peachy flickers on Picture of Bunny Rabbit’s artwork are the luminous beams of inspiration that only Russell could see. He seized them, surpassing his creative peers—tragically too much so—but his ghostly portrait eyeing them is a trophy. We’re blessed with his spiritual guidance, tending to his artistry as loyal as a rabbit, and making sense of his vulnerability for ourselves.

Bandcamp Picks: ML Buch – Suntub

On her second album, SUNTUB, ML Buch musically bridges the corporeal with the intangible. It’s an incredible exercise in off-kilter electronic pop. Buch severs what normally constitutes ambient pop, or even post-rock. Where the latter is oft-forlorn, adopting crashing guitar timbre, its construction here is uncharacteristically chipper and sparkling—like the artwork’s blinding glimmer from her guitar’s tuning peg. Buch’s shielded sight symbolizes the spectacle of this album: its beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. Either these soothing songs gel together, or ideally, their textually rich acoustics breathe gracefully. Buch’s lustrous collection is perhaps one of 2023’s most adventurous sonic journeys.

SUNTUB equally conjures faded Earth tones, the warbled reflective sheen of chrome, and abyssal ocean depths. Buch’s breathy voice like Imogen Heap, particularly when she harmonizes by herself (“Solid” and “Working it out”), imbues a bodily quality to her paradoxically synthetic soundscapes. Primitive drum machines and woozy synthesizers (both at their best on “Somewhere”) linger below her singing, to bolster her unstopping metallic guitar—her second voice. Its sole presence in the album’s roomiest cuts (“Slide,” “Clearing,” and especially “Dust beam”) rings valiantly with the same hypnotic vibrancy as The Police’s Andy Summers. The lack of density in those spacious songs invites a deep ocean blue to engulf the listener’s imagination. Buch’s mechanical instrumentation is conjoined with the familiarity of her poignant, human voice and new wave guitar sensibilities, ultimately eliciting déjà vu: her futuristic sound palette is founded from noises we’ve already heard.

Comparisons can be drawn, certainly, but they hardly dismiss Buch’s idiosyncrasy. Opener “Pan over the hill” recalls the ethereal, swaying, baggy alt-dance of CCFX’s 2017 self-titled EP. Something that’d be classed as Cocteau Twins-esque dream pop sounds more spiritual on “Fleshless hand.” SUNTUB isn’t entirely glossy though—more abrasion appears on the shoegazing drum-heavy “Big sun.” Meanwhile, “River mouth” steadily chugs with a neurotic guitar melody, until erupting into towering feedback that cushions Buch’s visceral voice. The song carries a gothic lonesomeness like being anchored in a deserted place, distant from human connection. The closer “Working it out” is noteworthy for its sparsity, but also its awe-inspiring lyrics: “You’re working it out / Your body can care … You’re reaching out / And I / Give you the hug of a sister.” With those self-reflective lines, SUNTUB culminates into a large, protective divine embrace.

SUNTUB is a glamorous, gorgeous display of blending organic instrumentation with digital sounds. Again, potential likenesses are apparent—perhaps Buch emulates The Durutti Column, sharing their meditative ‘80s jangle guitar arrangements. However, I immediately pointed to Baltimore-born artist Mark Renner’s 2018 FEW TRACES compilation, a sampler of his pastoral ambient and new romantic ballads sounding like a cross between Brian Eno and New Order. If Renner’s excavated, comforting songs from 1982–90 stand the test of time today, then they’re timeless—Buch’s abstruse offering here promises similar longevity. By concocting a mixture of diverse influences and her own individuality with intense precision, ML Buch has brewed a frictionless, free-flowing seraphic pool to bathe in. Experience her sublime aural exploration over on Bandcamp.

C’est la vie: George Clanton’s Nostalgic Exuberance

It’s been five years since George Clanton’s last studio album, Slide, but he’s kept busy. 2020’s deadbeat summer saw collaborations with Nick Hexum of ‘90s alternative rap-rock group 311, a feat that brought Clanton to tears, telling Bandcamp Daily in the same year. He’s just concluded an extensive world tour, and now back on his own, he’s conjuring nostalgic alternative dance recalling the impassioned synthpop from aeons past.

Ooh Rap I Ya, with its warbly kinetic sand artwork, is a fresh progression. Where 2018’s Slide was his first album fully recorded under his own name, introducing electric guitar and acoustic drums, its complexity was deceiving. Its blown out production was underscored by simple chord progressions. Conversely, his new album takes that evolution further. In a 2023 interview with Stereogum, Clanton described Ooh Rap I Ya as a “conscious attempt at making Grown Up Music about self-realisation.” His booming soundscapes are well-suited to his newly acute songwriting, featuring luscious melodies that rekindle better times. There still are his obvious alternative ‘90s influences, My Bloody Valentine and Primal Scream, and yet overall, they’re more distilled this time around. Ooh Rap I Ya is the maturation of his sound, with increased honesty and deeper personal reflection.

Opener ‘Everything I Want’ tricks the listener into sparse quietness until it explodes into maximal ethereality. As the overblown drums continue to sway, so does Clanton, donning the vocals of a strung-out Backstreet Boys: “No one, no one, no one but you”. It perfectly welcomes the listener to his new, rich musical world. On ‘Justify Your Life’, Clanton flaunts his new-found confidence, belting a massive chorus like he’s Oasis’ former lead singer Liam Gallagher. Clanton’s deep appreciation for ‘90s music, culture, and aesthetics is more than surface-level revivalism—he grew up in that era and is drenching it in newness. After all, Clanton is 35 years old—he was there.

Lead single ‘I Been Young’ is the album’s centrepiece, where the boundaries for ‘90s revivalism are pushed to their limits—with great success. It’s Clanton’s attempt at remaking boyband music if they had producers with substance. The result is a powerful dance pop hit tinged with a humane poignancy. “Growing up is never easy / Can’t you see how life is blinding you?”—Clanton sings fervently, delivering his profound words with the same energy as Tears For Fears’ revered ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’. Its existential call to coming-of-age is later repeated, cementing itself as anthemic as that ‘80s new wave staple. The emotive song marks the all-encompassing culmination of Clanton’s escapism into a nostalgic world. While it may sound tried and true to Gen X, ‘I Been Young’ is refreshing, exciting, and sentimental for Gen Z and beyond. It’s purposeful pop of the highest calibre.

Though equally glowing, the album’s middle section takes a psychedelic turn, in tune with the hodgepodge Play-Doh artwork. ‘You Hold the Key and I Found It’ is a long-drawn trip hop groove driven by world music flutes. Its serenity is pleasant, but overstays its welcome with little development. ‘Vapor King / SubReal’, meanwhile, initially chugs with thick echoes as its second part diverges into a rattling jungle drum ‘n’ bass beat. It leads into ‘F.U.M.L.’, a fuzzy, bass-heavy breakbeat banger reminiscent of early ‘90s Chemical Brothers. The dreamy and distorted vocals of Neggy Gemmy expand on the track’s suffocating chaos.

The title track ‘Ooh Rap I Ya’, a seemingly random mixture of syllables, breathes cheerful life with a nonchalant cadence: “I believe there’s more to life than this”. The gleefully optimistic bop celebrates living through life, as the chirpy blips and melodic piano chords elicit a wide grin. Then, ‘For You, I Will’ with Australian dream pop artist Hatchie is an insurmountable shoegazing wall of sound—the closest to Clanton’s vaporwave era. Clanton’s blissed-out bellowed howls are matched by his guest’s sing-songy chants, tying together the gargantuan soundscape that flushes over the listeners’ ears.

Clanton’s attention to songcraft has never been more intoxicating. Without any irony, he’s integrated the sounds of the past to make his most introspective album yet. Not one song sounds clustered despite the high-density. That and Clanton’s grounding lyricism reinforce the album’s triumphant emotional intensity. All in all, Ooh Rap I Ya is a spiritual guiding hand for those clinging onto optimism. Clanton’s exhilarating love letter to self-reflection is simply a life-affirming beauty.

Exploring Duster’s Stratosphere: A dangerous helping hand for doing nothing

Anyone who’s stepped foot into the vast world of alternative music has likely stumbled upon the muted grassfield that is Duster’s Stratosphere. For those who haven’t heard it, it has receded to the background of half-heartedly existential TikTok collages, as the dwindling strums of its hit ‘Inside Out’ engross the ears. In reality, it’s a world parallel to ours, ridden by disheartenment and indisposition, but devotion to it is another thing – a symbol of one’s morale.

This debut from the American lo-fi indie rockers is indisputably their best. It’s a masterwork of sombre, stoic alternative rock, slowcore, where Duster’s musical translation of gruelling lethargy has been unparalleled since its release in 1998. It’s no wonder TikTok got their hands on it. It also carries the usual bittersweet buzzwords that a record of such hazy aesthetics would: nostalgia, wistfulness, and sentimentality. I’m sure many disheartened humans have clung to Stratosphere for comfort, and I think that’s why it took me so long to grasp it. That desire was foreign to me. Only recently have I understood Stratosphere, not as a product to desperately reminisce, but to take solace in complete lethargy, which is terrifying. In one sense, Duster’s debut serves as superb atmospheric music, but if you dive beneath the surface, it abrases your skin and sanity. It reassures your emptiness; if seeking liberation from monotony, it’s an obstacle in itself.

Leaving that dread aside, the album is largely composed of short songs, with a couple of stretched-out voyages. The briefer ones skittering under two minutes don’t deserve to be labelled mere ‘interludes’ – Duster never wastes a musical note. Some passages feel repetitive, but slowcore is stylistically designed around tedium. There’s no absence of musical takeaways. The lullaby-like opener ‘Moon Age’ twinkles like the night-sky’s constellations lighting up. As its soft sparkles peter out, the desire to be elsewhere, far and away from reality, feels desperate. ‘Heading for the Door’ jarringly follows, revealing Duster’s use of guitars as their voices – similar to contemporaries Built to Spill. The acute stiltedness of each guitar line echoes those of mid ‘90s Modest Mouse at their most grounded. ‘Gold Dust’ is single-handedly the most heart-wrenching on the album. It’s warm, inviting, and cosy, with its brevity lending towards its purpose: briefly reminiscing about childhood. That’s just the first three songs. Everything afterwards is similarly defined by the conscious lo-fi suffocation, fizzling drones, one-note riffs, and creaky vocals protruding from the fuzz to provide comfort.

Some moments are plainly monotonous (‘Topical Solution’, ‘Docking the Pod’, and ‘The Landing’), but Duster sometimes gets crafty with their guitar chords (‘The Queen of Hearts’ and ‘Shadows of Planes’). Elsewhere, they turn up their amps, creating an emotional catharsis like a rocketing vapour trail – particularly on ‘Echo, Bravo’. The fact that one wasn’t committed to the vinyl is criminal. The title track borrows the same explosive drone, but places the jet in a lulling overcast sky. Musically, it wouldn’t be out of place on experimental rockers Swans’ Soundtracks for the Blind. Moreover, Duster even reprises their own songs. ‘Heading for the Door’ returns with more sunshine creeping through the clouds on ‘Reed to Hillsborough’. Its initial melody is extended to ‘Earth Moon Transit’ and injected with volatile angst. ‘Topical Solution’, ‘Inside Out’ and the two-part ‘The Twins / Romantica’ are all driven by the same plodding percussion but are identifiable enough from one another. Like being ridden with a foggy head cold, the album is a haze – the familiar becomes unfamiliar, and vice versa.

Returning to Stratosphere’s burdening wallowing, my attachment to it is enveloping me as I write this. The other day, I drove to work as usual, putting on Stratosphere in the car to mentally prepare and relieve my reluctance to come in under the weather. When the miserable slow-burner tracks came on, I finally got it. I understood Stratosphere’s lethargic stillness. Those invasive emotions of not doing anything came to feel acceptable, which startled me. Brief downtime is one thing, particularly when incurred outside of your control. Yet, to be trapped by the shackles of strong disinclination, unwilling to exercise creatively, is what scares me the most. Maybe that’s why I have, ironically, forced my hand to tend to this album. Its sounds therapeutically touch the listener, but getting stuck in its world is grim. I see Stratosphere as a coping mechanism for lethargy — it’s Duster responding to ‘it’. That is, one’s ‘off days’ or defeated submission to ‘negative feelings’, to put it wholeheartedly. Whether or not one’s entrapment to Stratosphere brings them betterment, one thing is clear: that reliance is dangerous.

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