Every third feature of this series, it’s a trifecta special where instead of one featured artist / album, it’s three.
For the first Trifecta, I decided to focus on artists whose works are bubble worlds—singular, expanding, fragile. Their worlds exist through and beyond sound, with personal aesthetic, visual art, and meta-narratives all making more tangible these bold, unusual, often anachronistic worlds that read like personal collections—shopping sprees, perhaps—instances of the contemporary artist thrifting through the endless post-modern shopping mall of images and ideas. Let me show you what I mean.
Genre: Electronic, BUT more like music based on an aggregate of 1995 Geocities websites on the paranormal
Bold colors, primitive textureless shapes, impossible spaces—virtual reality as understood by the techno-mystics of the yester-millennium. A time before the pixel as a unit of measure entered the popular understanding, and the virtuality of tomorrow was still imagined in seamless ultra-high resolution as a space of liberation, disembodiment, and teleportation—a construction yard for utopia.
This is Pilar Zeta’s world, in which MIDI glockenspiel notes ring as round and pure as the balls in Virtual Pool. Zeta is a self-taught Argentinian media artist working in graphic design, fashion, creative consulting, and now music production. She has designed album covers for the likes of Coldplay (A Head Full of Dreams), Jimmy Edgar (Burn So Deep, Mercurio, Sex Drive), and Satoshi Tomiie (New Day), authored Holographic Universe—her own fashion line—and even exhibited mixed media installations in art capitals around the world. In light of Zeta’s career focus, Moments of Reality is made all the more impressive in being (more or less) a side-project.
Along with Jimmy Edgar, she founded the label Ultramajic, where she is the shaping force behind the label’s “fun, fashion, mystic, magic” aesthetic—a synthesis of M.C. Escher, vaporwave, and the contents of any given Area 51 gift shop in Rachel, Nevada.
Moments of Reality is clothed much the same—bold surrealism percolated through (and/or in light of) digital processes of production. Zeta describes her work as a “little mix of everything[,] drawing, scanning, painting … Photoshop, Illustrator, and Cinema 4D,” a palette of tools hinting a conscious re-integration of physical creativity in the age of the computer. Her visual style quotes the era of digital fetishization, but her delivery is typically post-digital and forward looking.
The spirit of the record is readily epitomized by the MIDI saxophone arpeggios onHouse of Memphis—a simulated instrument, a real poor auditory pun on a real sax, playing a series of notes a real saxophone could not. Like Jerry Paper, Jlin, Kero Kero Bonito and other “MIDI revivalists” (by which I mean, artists preferring sounds evocative of the old Radioshack Casio keyboard sitting in your attic) Zeta takes the sound of what was once insufficient simulation and turns it into art object in itself. Where simulacra play by their own rules. Moments of Reality is retro futurism, not retro nostalgia. What an odd thing it is to dredge up old imagery, old metaphors of understanding the world, and re-imagining and re-fashioning them with the sleekness and hindsight of now. I can never quite separate the irony from the reverence.
Moments of Reality feels like… like an old video game, but the video game is your life and you are stuck on a level that does not exist in this universe. It feels like… like a conspiracy theorist in 1995 fell asleep in his bowl of Mr. Noodle while reading internet bulletin boards about Roswell and this is what he dreamt.
Genre: Electronic/Ambient, BUT more like Twin Peaks Black Lodge-core
Trigger warning: this album is an artistic interpretation of dementia from a first person point of view.
James Leyland Kirby is, uh… no stranger to discord and taking day trips to, oh you know, the abyss. Under the moniker V/Vm, Kirby releases albums like sick Love—described by the YouTuber who uploaded the bootleg as “ballads to vomit to”—musical deconstructions so severe that he largely makes this list by virtue of being the very polar opposite of a world maker. That we flirt with destruction to create, etcetera etcetera.
As The Caretaker, Kirby’s virtual persona is a featureless mask. His output is a desolate, cavernous collage of old 30s ballroom pop recordings coated in molten vinyl, which sound a lot like they are erupting from some limbo between worlds.
His most recent project,Everywhere At The End of Time, is an ongoing, long-form work he began releasing in stages in September 2016. The liner notes describe the album as a collection of “sounds from the journey The Caretaker as artist will make after being artistically diagnosed as having early onset dementia,” a curious and inventive meta-narrative that has only one, total ending.
It is unclear (and, really, also irrelevant) whether this record was prompted or inspired by any persons in Kirby’s own life, though it is certainly a personal, sensitive, and potentially triggering record for anyone who has bared witness to a relative or friend succumb.
Everywhere At The End of Time is a chilling interpretation of the recognizable world disintegrating as the congruity of memory unravels. In the first stage, the ballroom samples are relatively intact—they are, however, indexical of something (effectively vague) far away and overly sentimental. The object of recollection seems to be memory itself in its most material, touchable way. The pleasure of remembering quickly becomes the active material of this record even as the world circles the drain.
Gradually, the Caretaker starts exhibiting early symptoms, like forgetting names and where familiar objects were left, so to speak. Subtle time skips, loops, and other disruptions quickly turn into disorienting fractures. By stage five (several hours of listening later), experiencing “major disorientation” is a clinically correct understatement. Stage five is a world so delirious, alien, lonely, and vulnerable that it’s difficult to stay in one room with this record on without worrying for yourself. Shadows fall the wrong way, you discover rooms in your house you never noticed, mirrors become excruciating, inhospitable places.
Everywhere At The End of Time is a difficult, unforgiving record that emanates from under the carpet and promises to get under your skin.
Genre: Indie, BUT more like Every-Instrument-In-A-1886-Viennese-Orchestra-Scotch-Taped-Together-core
In case you thought I’d leave you on that down note, here’s something exuberant and fantastical.
Imagine someone had read through a 1768 more-mildew-than-book edition of Encyclopedia Britannica and gleaned all the little, easy to miss factoids that were always way too fantastic to be believed yet, in good humor, were allowed to be printed, then swallowed several children’s books, and a jar of pickled beets for good measure. Imagine that the yield of this transmogrification was flakes of sugarcane, a misfired spell of a lightning bolt, and a musical record—well, this record would have to be Cosmo Sheldrake’s folklore fantasy,The Much Much How How and I. Still following?
London-based Cosmo Sheldrake, a 28 year old multi-instrumentalist and producer, is all about “play, nonsense, and the sonorous environment,” which there is plenty of in his street organ-like tableaus. Cosmo blends raucous drums, choral parts, synthesizers, and synth drums (where other albums exploring this kind of wilderness might shy away from electronic and modern aesthetics, this one doesn’t) with the most eclectic marching band for hire.
A quick look at some of the actors marching in the convoy; double bass, banjo, oboe, cor anglais, sousaphone, clarinet, flute, bass trombone, french horn, flugel horn, rebab, duduk, beer bottles, and yes, vacuum cleaner. In the ways an album is like a carpet-wide toy city. And tying it all together from one fairy tale to the next is a kind of fantastic sense of place that cements this record as a production masterpiece. Spaces and moods are so specific to each composition, and yet so well connected that the overall result is cinematic, palpable.
The lyrics on this record are just cursive phonetics, the pleasure of speech itself captured. They resemble nursery rhymes and border on non-sensical, taking any linguistic twist and turn to “run away from the hum-drum.”
This album is a work of imaginative fantasm, at once aquatic, prehistoric—an ancient musical virus lying dormant in a 100-foot tall burdock (Pliocene)—then macabre, carnivalesque, and even feverish at parts (Solar Waltz). Its culmination is modern, cosmopolitan, military, bustling with the peacoats and restless feet of a 19th century central Europe (Hocking). Measured by both sundial and astronomical clock. A book of alternate histories. A record inscribed in the rings of the Earth’s oldest tree teased out with an insect leg stylus.