As electronic musicians craft songs in digital collage, the distinction between “producer” and “writer” has never really made much sense. Samples, synthetic sounds, and the technology used to bring them together are all an extension of compositional imagination.
I’m reminded of this when I regularly explain what I do. (This is really fun in crowded, noisy bars.) “I run a site about … music and technology.” “Oh… what?” “Like the technology people use to make music.” [Insert dazed look.] “You know, if you hear music these days, it was all actually produced on computers? So I write about those tools. But… actually, I write about the music, too.” (At this point, it’s best to just give up and buy everyone another round.)
The reality is, though, that the demands of writing, playing, and producing are such that it really is special when someone successfully ticks all the boxes. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been listening to two records that really do it for me. They’re quite different – one by Austria’s Eloui, one by Seattle’s Lusine, one from 2011 (though I happened across it last week and it’s too good not to share), one just released. But you can give them a trial listen in their entirety on stream, and they’re exceptional examples of the craft of single artists who can produce and write. And, most of all, they’re all really albums of songs, which is not always what you find.
Let’s start with Lusine, whose new record is out today on Ghostly International, before returning to something quite different with Eloui.
Waiting Room, while it has an austere title and beautifully-chilly photo by Ghostly album art regular Michael Cina, is in fact a warm, lush collection of electronic sounds. You can listen to the release in its entirety via Hype Machine:
Lusine to me is the whole package. Every timbre, every sonic color represents the cutting edge of experimental sound production technique. At the same time, his vocal-centered writing is crisply focused into songs with pop clarity. And that’s not to be overlooked: with matter-of-fact lyrics and melodies with hooks, that seemingly-effortless kind of songwriting eludes many electronic producers.
Now, I wouldn’t go quite as far as Jakub Alexander does writing for ISO50, in that I believe this kind of clarity can extend to other musical idioms that do tilt out of pop into more experimental domains. But it is eminently listenable and exactly the quality level we’ve come to expect from Lusine. Jakub, for his part, muses:
If I could offer up one electronic album to the world it would be this one, Lusine has always been a wizard when it comes to expansion and beauty, while maintaining the highest quality sound design without it ever being too experimental to drive off any new listeners. Songs like “Stratus” makes you feel like your skydiving in your chair, while “Panoramic” builds up to what feels like your doing donuts in a convertible in slow motion in the desert after the best day with your good friends. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
For something a bit different, perhaps freer in its use of texture and writing style, but just as exemplary of this notion of cross-breeding vocal writing with sound technique, I turn to Eloui.
With reflective lyrics half-whispered across free-flowing streams of samples, Eloui mixes exquisite production technique with gentle, direct songwriting. Percussion and tunes cooing in the background in elaborately-constructed interwoven sound, the songs by this Vienna-based artist somehow manage never to feel overburdened by the layers of detail they’ve accumulated. But they do feel improvisatory in the density of ideas in each.
Have a listen to the 2011 sounds off “Chasing Atoms”:
This sums up a bit of what I’m talking about in regards to production, songwriting, and materials. The media of music is ultimately electronic, but what that means enroute is diverse. The computer is an extension of how we think, and so it’s not really that sounds are electronic so much as we share our own experience of listening by means of that digital canvas:
Instruments used: ukulele, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, clarinet, flute, drums, calimba, cabasa, claves, metallophone, glockenspiel, vinyl records, Viennese thunder, crickets in Martin’s garden, Uhura the cat, Logic Pro 9, Yamaha CS-5, Alesis QS8
There’s also a video for the terrific single “Personal Politics,” which came out in 2012:
By the way, for anyone who mistakenly believes the production scene is dominated by men, whatever the press coverage focus, it simply isn’t true – I got the recommendation of Eloui via legendary and prolific DJ and musician Electric Indigo, also of Vienna, who runs a database of female artists that makes a strong statement. It’s not especially significant to mention this in relation to Eloui, other than to say this is an opportunity to find artists who have sometimes failed to get on the press radar, and broaden your musical experience. Check out Female Pressure and their SoundCloud group, and do like them on Facebook. (While based in Vienna, the database is international.) As the description from Female Pressure puts it, “It’s not our number, it’s about how and if we are recognized!” I think the absence of these artists is partly responsible for our skewed view of what music production means – you can’t tear holes in the awareness of music and expect to come away feeling positive about the music scene.
You can follow all of CDM’s artist coverage here:
And there’s more to come, so keep suggestions coming.