by Bram Howard
There’s a lot of creative stuff floating around in the electronic world these days, what with S U R V I V E getting so popular and synthesizers becoming more prevalent. With a sizeable chunk of artists examining the finer points of the ‘80s synthpop sound, it’s great to hear someone who does something a little more experimental and “out there.” Thus we come across the double album True Color and Chaos Is. These releases are the creation of Damase and Manican Dream, respectively, with Damase being the solo project of Jeff Bye, and Manican Dream being a collaboration with Bye and one Nathaniel Earl for the purpose of writing a soundtrack for the short film Solace Is.
Because I received a vinyl copy for this review, I got the full analog experience of this release, and it made the album that much more interesting. With each side dedicated to a particular album, there is a great divide between a kind of ambient pop approach and noisy experimentation. From this emerges a duality that shifts the listener’s experience upon transition to the next side but provides a cohesion that lies more in the subtleties than an outright flow. It’s something that only a compilation like this can create, and this compilation does it well.
True Color begins with the lighthearted track “Speak to Me,” skipping along with childlike synth melodies while electronic whines and quick spurts of white noise flit about in the background. Before you know it, however, the song morphs into a very danceable house-like jam as a back beat thuds underneath the sparkles and splashes of noise. Quick samples of voices create moments of sub-melody amongst the collage of sound as the main melody gets filled out to create a less childlike, and poppier feel, shifting the song ever so slightly in front of the listener.
“Speak to Me” morphs into probably the best track on this release, “True Color.” As another house-y back beat drives the song, a fantastic synth melody that resides somewhere between melancholy and general introspection sways overhead, seemingly just a pace off of the tempo, but actually flowing seamlessly with the beat. With this pairing serving as the backbone of the song, sparkles and bubbles of electronic instrumentation buzz and shimmer about to create a texture around the main phrasing that mutates the song into a plethora of different shades of “True Color.” This texturization leads the song to its conclusion as the beat and melody fade, transitioning from a dreamy dance to a sparking ambiance.
“Polarflex” closes out the side with a perpetual whine, clicking back beat, and hazy synth melody. The sounds put together on this track remind me of Dntel as there is an isolating, ambient quality to it, but with a danceable core. A distorted and hardly recognizable audio clip of a voice pushes its way to the surface throughout the song, creating an otherworldly and eerie feel to things, like a spirit from another world is reaching out through your speakers, brought about by the ritual of this song. As the voice fades, the beat and the melody are all that remain, then layers slowly begin to fall off the song before a warbly melody and clicking bits of white noise bring Damase’s side to a close.
Manican Dream immediately transports us somewhere else as the single track “Chaos Is” fades in with echoing bell sounds, and mechanical, or perhaps laboratory experiment-like, bloops and bleeps flood the aural space. A large, harsh buzz sound reminds me of the noise bits of Can’s Tago Mago as it forces itself onto the song, but is quickly silenced in favor of a repetitious blend of synth tones that churn, returning to the machinery of before. This phrasing subsequently takes on many forms, still churning about, but morphing between sounding like an ‘80s nature documentary, to contrasting with masses of low-end expansions of noise, to coloring a vibrating, engine-like hum, all taking the listener on a journey across an ever-changing horizon of soundscapes.
The pairing of these two albums places this compilation in a world that blends the mysterious but rhythmic sound of Ken Ishii, and the introspective, and at times spooky, realm of Boards of Canada. The comp takes bits and pieces of both house and ambient and fabricates a style that, despite being from two different projects, has an undercurrent of commonality that I really enjoy. I hope to see a lot more from these guys in the future.
Bram Howard is a music writer living in Austin, TX. He also plays in Leche.