Originally out as a limited cassette-only release (I know, right?), Joane Skyler’s “orz” EP has made its way to a full digital & physical release via Reckno. The eight track EP is an accomplished assortment of crisp beats, undressed sound-waves and sluggish sythns all distilled into deliriously unbalanced electronica. Preview it below:
The EP opens with the howling synthetic groans of “Gemz”, rumblingly outwards to fillsome pitch-dark and cavernously large space, thus setting the tone for the next thirty minutes. From the get-go, the EP is dense, tightly-coiled and with an almost pre-historic weightiness. Having set up this atmosphere, Skyler then sets about puncturing the tar-thick tones with snappy, stuttering percussion, breaching the murk without ever breaking it. In places Skyler’s drums slip so far off meter that instead of becoming humanised they morph into something else entirely; the whirring of complex machinery or the cyclical pattern of water droplets falling from ceiling of a cave. Drum hits that might otherwise seem sharp and piercing become dulled as they bounce around the artificial spaces, and the EP soon develops this subterranean pressure, further reinforced by endlessly shuddering reverbs. In a way the EP puts me in mind of artists like Distance or Loefah, in that it has taken a lot what was conceptually and atmospherically interesting about early dub-step, but with pads providing the crushing force of the sub-bass and breakbeats disorienting us instead of half-time. And dread. Lots of it.
The Ep isn’t all gloom and doom though. Every so often delicate, harmonious flourishes will bubble up or a pad will cut through the mix like a beam light refracted through water. Brief flashes of hope that only further muddy the water when they fade. In fact, Skyler seems to posses that rare skill to these create these ambiguous, almost alien atmospheres that one might normally associate with Zomby or Actress; the music feels highly emotive, just not in a way any human intelligence would comprehend*. Lately, this style of music has become particularly exciting to me because subverts the existing norms in electronic music. The current assumption, (also a judgement espoused by skeptics and lay-people which has been used to discredit electronic music since its dawn) is that organic sounds evoke complex emotions, whereas artificial sounds do not. Should not. Cannot. Organic vocal samples, live-drum hits, reel-to-reel hiss, natural-sounding reverb- these are the tools of Gold Panda, Andy Stott and Nicholas Jarr. Auto-tune, drum-machines, quantisation- these are the tools David Guetta. One is contemplative and deep, the other fleeting and vapid. Never the twain shall meet.
Clearly this isn’t the case; just consider a Vangelis or Giorgio Moroder score, take a look at what Dark Star can do with a vocoder, or remember the OST of your most cherished childhood video games. Are we seriously to believe the theme from The Terminator would better reinforce Arnie’s menacing relentlessness if were it played with live instrumentation? Perhaps conjuring powerful emotive imagery with synthetic sounds is so hard to master many would rather dismiss it. Regardless, you can rest assured that so long as artists like Skyler continue to challenge these assumptions, this technique will not be lost.
Simultaneously, ”orz’s greatest strength and weakness is its ability to create its own immersive environment. Many of the tracks seamlessly flow into one another or contain more than one traditional “song”, thus blurring the boundaries of not only their running times, but also of their moods, atmospheres and stories. Presumably, this is intended to capitalise on nature of the medium originally intended for ”orz’s”release: the cassette tape. If you cast your mind back- no, further than that. Further still. You there? Right. If you cast your mind back, you’ll recall that cassette tapes don’t have separate tracks and skipping between the content with any accuracy is difficult at the best of times. Hence, songs with ambiguous divisions make perfect sense (…aaand my original skepticism was a touch unjustified). This wandering arrangement serves to enhance the EP’s daydream vibe and, bizarrely enough, communicate some kind of narrative arc (despite the almost total absence of lyrical content). The unfortunate flip side of this lack of strict framing is that the content can occasionally come across as either too cluttered or somewhat transient. Few of the tracks remain with you after listening and little of the EP seems to “make sense” in isolation (that being said, I keep coming back to “Dinosaur Dies Alone”, probably the most meandering and oblique track on the EP).
While “orz“ doesn’t quite hold up as a collection of traditional songs, when experienced as a whole it is a unique and sublime journey to the musical boundaries of human-computer interaction. Above all else, the release is a superb listen and a bracing introduction to an intriguing new voice; I eagerly anticipate hearing more.
You can download Joane Skyler’s “orz” EP via Boomkat here or get the limited edition cassette-tape from the Reckno bandcamp page here. You should also bop over to her soundcloud and follow/comment/share and just generally show some love, ‘eres dat link.
*I’ve noticed I’ve been saying this sort of thing a lot lately, so maybe its all perfectly understandable and I’ve just developed an autistic spectrum disorder.