Beats

REVIEW: Box Dreams - Box Dreams

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Phillipe Roberts

No doubt aided by the ascent of Frank Ocean to minor R&B deity status with his continued success and cross-genre appeal, the archetype of the lonely lo-fi crooner seems inescapable these days. You know the type: isolated, sensitive, destitute in the absence of love, but cloaked in enough reverb to (hopefully) turn that sadness into sex appeal. It’s a winning formula, albeit done to death; after all, once the echoes die down, the last minor 7th rings out, and you’re left sitting there to parse over the lyrics sheet, the self-deprecating clinginess so endemic to the genre can really have you running towards sunnier pastures.

At first listen, Box Dreams’ self-titled effort shows off a striking affinity for that archetype. His lyrics drift between yearning, hazy romance and escapist nostalgia, his cavernous productions stuffed with chopped horns, dreary guitars, and foggy field recordings suggesting a body in dire need with a mind wrapped in comfortable seclusion. But unlike many of his contemporaries, Adam Rhodes has more to offer than rose-tinted atmosphere. In fact, in the best moments on Box Dreams, he takes pleasure in sudden shifts from warm and sprawling soundscapes to hard-hitting moments of cold interiority. Working between these two temperatures with a graceful ear for sonic narrative, Box Dreams puts his inner workings on display in a lush feast for the ears.

These focal oscillations rarely take longer than half a song to occur. Rhodes works fast to create structure, and moves at an unrelenting pace through a dizzying array of melodic ideas. The second track, “Am I a Moment,” is a prime example. Starting with a psychedelic breakbeat stomp, an air-clearing guitar chord rings out just under a minute in. Horns loop and turn in on themselves before a modified beat returns, coasting over a wonky bassline to a chorus that recalls Daniel Rossen’s contributions to Grizzly Bear. A ghostly sax solo misdirects your attention before the vacuum returns again to provide a clear foundation for a springy, percussive outro coated in fuzz guitar. The productions of this style, particularly in the penultimate bop “Peach Juice,” are pure color, free associating between tones but meshing cohesively.

This tendency for songs to turn inside out, seemingly at a whim, can at times prove too disorienting. Taken individually, the preceding song and the reversed, Boards of Canada-style outro in the opener (“Where I’m Going”) are phenomenal, but the sensuous embrace of the vocal portion is completely lost in the gloom of the ending. By the time it sweeps over, you’ve lost the thread. This may be intentional, done in attempt to create a flowing, cinematic experience. However, it can sometimes feel like Rhodes looking at the landscape from too many angles to give us a defining image.

Rhodes’ voice is mostly saturated in echo, functioning like a vaguely human presence in an album full of disorienting instrumentals. This is a solid choice, because when he gives it space to breathe, as on highlights “Beside You” and “Intro (Santa Barbara),” he absolutely takes over a mix with emotion. The warbling auto-tune choking his voice on the former makes for a perfectly refreshing slide from high-energy trap hi-hat grooves to desperate, multi-tracked pleading, an ice-bath in the middle of the desert. The latter, released almost a year ago, unfurls a steel guitar sample before deconstructing it for the most upbeat moment on the record, a patiently funky island groove. The chorus here is as poptimist as it gets, with a confident tune that doesn’t hide, sounding like an instant summer throwback spiced with regret. Box Dreams would do well to let his pipes shine more directly. It’s no wonder that this track in particular is his most listened to; the elegant simplicity of it all demands it.

Box Dreams is an ambitious attempt to crack the divide between luxurious, space-bound beats and spare, late-night lust. It succeeds at prying open the doorway, and at times, suggests an untapped universe waiting to be exploited. Put your local sadboy on notice: it’s time to dream bigger. Much bigger.

REVIEW: Kai Basanta - earth

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Will Shenton

As we noted in his recent video premiere, Kai Basanta has a penchant for blurring the line between digital and organic. Every facet of his new EP, earth, seems determined to draw both elements into the liminal space that divides them, blending jazz instrumentals with synths, samples, and drum-machine beats. The result is an artful take on jazz-hop that feels more intentional and dynamic than the bounds of the genre usually dictate.

From the summery grooves of "sunlight" to the off-kilter mashup of a Kendrick Lamar interview and an Olivier Messiaen quartet that is "love," earth isn't afraid to show off Basanta's impressive range. The album feels like an ascent into unrestrained creativity, as we move from more recognizable tropes into the simmering soundscape of "shadows," its beats resolving slowly out of an ominous ether before closing the EP.

At first glance, earth feels familiar, and perhaps that's the point. It's only by delving deeper into its textures and homages that we can see Basanta's sound evolve right before our eyes.

PREMIERE: Space Cubs - Gnaw

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Phillipe Roberts

Building from a billowing cloud of voices into a hypnotic trek towards the unknown, Space Cubs’ “Gnaw” is picturesque, scene-setting ambient pop. The first track from the Buffalo-based band's latest EP, What iff, it’s a fantastic showcase of the group’s knack for weightless melodies and darkly soothing atmospheres.

True to its title, there’s an unmistakable dread piercing the heart of this song; beneath the swirling piano figure that loosely tethers the more ethereal elements, a thick layer of dissonance gleams like a knife. The sounds detune as an eerily organic yet metallic chorus swims in and out of prominence, playing anxious call and response with main vocalist Suzanne Bonifacio, her voice surging as these audible strands of doubt crowd around her.

When a beat does come in, it sinks “Gnaw” deeper into quicksand. Bass and drums seem to run in reverse. The soundscape pulls in tighter, sucking in a deep breath before the plunge. A digitized ride skips along and Bonifacio waxes about leaving it all behind and starting again, telling herself, trapped in the immense gravitational whirl of the now-dense instrumentals, that “The past is the past.” “Gnaw” eventually coasts to the finish, but at the close Space Cubs have broken through to rich and mysterious new territory.

VIDEO PREMIERE: Kai Basanta - sunlight

Will Shenton

Kai Basanta's new video, "sunlight," is a stunning exploration of texture and movement. Directed by Derek Branscombe, Basanta's undulating beats are matched with a patchwork kaleidoscope of mesmerizing, uncannily organic shapes and patterns that unfold with languid serenity. This is a video you can truly melt into, letting the rays of titular sunlight wash over you in waves.

The opening track on Basanta's new EP, earth, "sunlight" uses a beautiful combination of atmospheric synths and acoustic instruments, with the percussion (his specialty) seemingly a blend of both. This is reflected in Branscombe's video, as the line between CGI and the natural world is blurred; it's often hard to tell which images were created from scratch and which were captured in the wild.

It raises the question of whether the distinction between "natural" and "artificial" is really a meaningful one. If anything, it's their synthesis that makes "sunlight" so impactful, and such an alluring landscape to get lost in.

REVIEW: jitwam. - ज़ितम सिहँ

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Phillipe Roberts

India-born, Brooklyn-based beatsmith jitwam. describes music as “a shelter from the storm, a place you can go to close your eyes,” and previous releases have followed that mantra to a T. Deconstructed samples of folk or jazz guitar pop and simmer in the warm hiss of vinyl drum samples. Layers of stacked delays send his voice rippling across the stereo field in a chain of echoes. Earlier works fizzed slowly to the surface; even disco workout "whereyougonnago?" from this year’s TJD006 EP seemed to emanate from a private, blissed-out bubble sliding beneath the waves. On his full-length debut, ज़ितम सिहँ, jitwam. emerges from that aquatic slumber wielding a few new production tricks and tighter songwriting. His songs maintain the languid, soulful style that brought him to this point, but evoke wider, more cosmic ambitions. No longer content with his bubble-bound hallucinations, jitwam. drags the melodies out into the light and puts steel in the walls of his shelter.

This expanded focus on songwriting over beatmaking is the clearest transformation that jitwam. undergoes on ज़ितम सिहँ. Make no mistake, his beats still knock; the quiet storm thumping underneath the soul-searching strums of “alone” is one of his finest percussive moments thus far, and “drowning in tomorrow” relies heavily on a sliding funk bassline to drive home its anxious intensity. But for the first time, his tracks carry a weightier narrative arc thanks to more confident vocal finesse and a less chopped-up production style. The aforementioned “alone” clears plenty of sonic room for his vaporous musings on romantic isolation, but beneath all the reverb, you could imagine jitwam. crooning it out with just an acoustic guitar. “goodlord,” a collaboration with trumpeter Nick Waters, cuts down the clutter completely, with jitwam. self-harmonizing a capella over sparse finger snaps. Hearing his voice so intact, free of clips and edits that add to the beat but can strangle the melody, adds a new level of magnetism to the tracks.

ज़ितम सिहँ also shows off the impressive range of jitwam.’s influences, revealing a songwriter eager to push his production game. Album centerpiece “i ain’t scared of no devil” deals a swift coup de grace to those who might lazily file him away under the Stones Throw umbrella. Swaggering into a shuffling menace of a beat, he tinkers with it mercilessly, adding a dash of dissonantly arpeggiating guitars and squeals of no-wave-adjacent saxophone. When the beat drops out halfway through, the two trade atmospheric touches, signaling cacophonously across a huge soundstage. “later…,” with its gently plinking piano, sounds like a mellowed-out reimagining of Brian Eno’s “On Some Faraway Beach” with a psychedelic folk melody. And “dooooooooooooooooooo” plays with a clipped vocal and guitar sample and police sirens to create an autumnal soundscape that gleams with childlike wonder.

Hearing jitwam. tackle a host of new approaches to his sound is truly a gift in these rapidly darkening late-fall days. ज़ितम सिहँ carves through peculiar channels in its search for shelter, but the inspired results make it well worth the journey. Slip on your headphones or bang it in the open air. Slide into a warm bath and dream for a while.