Words by / Henry Anthony-Duscheid
The debut, full-length album from the Chicagoan native is a departure from his frenetic earlier work and ventures into contemplative ambience and ethereal textured synth backdrops. Much like the album art, there a many levels to this album. Like a collage, multiple layers twist and gravitate on top of one another other, drawing the listener closer.
The Soundcloud electronic trap ethos is known for blistering synths assaults, high power percussion and bombastic 808s that Blake Skowron continuously pushed and refined in his own creative way. The Bummed EP cumulated the effort of multiple loose singles with similar sounds with a cohesive dichotomy of playful synths and gnarly bops; songs like ‘Sweet Nasty’ with Harris Cole and ‘Mumble’ garnered the attention of Alpha Pup Record’s Great Dane who would feature Skowron’s song ‘Melon Hands’ on last year’s Halloween Heater vol. 1. The follow up EP ‘Cloyde’ is even more left-field, psychedelic infused weird stuff like ‘In Control’ and ‘Cool Melody’ with Hue Honey.
The new EP is a reprieve of this, while still incorporating elements of Bummed and Cloyde into songs like ‘Clap’ and ’Something’ that feel new, imaginative, and washing in productive reflection on his direction as an artist.
Songs like Honest, Movement, and ISO seem to have a message and create space, tension, and relief with ties to genres that span ambient, drum n’ bass, and experimental hip hop. The use of vocalized textures to bring out unsettling moods and expressive color to songs like Something and Spine, and Clap demonstrates the development and maturity of this new side of Blake’s music. I am a huge fan of this guy and can’t wait to hear what he does next.
Songs: (sorry in advance: my metaphors can be all over the place, but they sound better if you are listening while you read!)
Spine- Ephemeral, like a beautiful transcendence up to heaven. Dissociative production with decaying percussion like wings beating the air the bird flying away
Unfortunate - Scintillating waves, hungry crunches and rips at fabric are organic textures to the transposing synth noises moving the song between its melodic highs and bristling lows. Emotionally, the the piece feels like its unraveling
Something - Drawn out, ebbing, seeming to come from nowhere at all, like a wet cave with no hole. Seeping through the rock. Eating cold soup. Being sad. Crying. Feeling tears burn the eyes. Released from it. Opening the eyes. Hunched shoulders. Calming breath. I am breathing in. I am breathing out. I am here. I deserve a place. Time to see clearly. Lost and Found. Sorry, word association got heavy. I like the slow, almost breathing quality to the song and reaching down a little further to find something important even if its uncertain. Keep going. Maybe there’s something we didn’t know we had.
Honest - Providing depth onto the previous track, Honest is more expressive with small synthesized hums and pads murmuring encouraging words in uncertain moments. Percussions begin with strong kick and textures like feet crunching leaves. Then, it all gets intense, the feelings are strong, rising high notes end with an onslaught of 808 stabs that devolve into winkling, dotting blips, before returning to the restless trials of distorted madness. Through it all, a sense of equanimity can be attained; don’t try to analyze it and let it flow over you. The outro helps with that.
Clap - Upbeat waves of light shine, calling forward like a mirage of promised ending. Other-worldly rifts sudden hijack the craft that is transporting the listener through this cracked utopian desert that Skowron is transcribing. The journey is not made in vain, there is redemption in the second half of the song, which is a theme of the entire album. The second drop of the song has rough bass and groovy synth bumps that are super fun to dance to and swing those hips!
No Fight (ft. Skylar Bennett) - Uplifting, healing synth pads are beautifully textured; leaving the listener open to Blake and vocalist Skylar Bennett’s soul searching. Then the deep deep house bass stabs of a dark club at 11:52 after three strong drinks conjures. Sweeping synths and ephemeral autotuned vocal carry the listener out to the dance floor. Find a partner and get down. Bennett’s vocal performance is great, though heavily electronically modified, the content is a slim but about as good as you get on trap bangers in 2018 so no complaints. I actually like the idea of relations growing despondent after an enlivened evening up until words turn to feelings.
Cold - One of my favorite tracks from the record, Cold is really bare and metallic. The percussive Drum and Bass inspired mood brings to my mind the snow covered mountains and jagged peaks that make up the “Spine” of a tall range of Alps. The beat just progresses so well with swirling textures of harsh winds on cold nights that bite into our cheeks. The waves in the core melody are haunting. One of the best and most emotionally engaging songs off the record. As an aside, I am a big Drum and Bass fan and would love to hear more of this sound from Blake. His textures are prefect for this style and I’m interested if he will continue to produce similar compositions in the future.
Levitate - Pulse, like a blender of different sounds and ideas, like the Album art’s collage, “Levitate” is a binding of different feelings and may take a while to get a feel for each element or to see if you actually like all the pieces coming together. While interesting, the track feels too far fetched. Its a good place to warm up from Cold, but just doesn’t mix everything down into an easy to drink cocktail. The lower volume and murkier ending is nice.
ISO - The embers and crackling of shouldering fire; a small stream babbles a short way from the late night gathering. Maybe just the background conversations of a house party. Creepy but familiar, ISO has odd textures and a ghostly overtone. Not really spooky, but a festive unnatural feeling. May or may not be ritualistic moans at certain points.
Movement - Dropping snare and darling hi hats bring the wandering synth into the fold. This is a superb track that really brings the collage metaphor to bare as the record has trundled through several different points of emphasis. Movement captures them all in a really simple and beautiful homage to the sound of Spine. Some of the licks at the end are so smooth.
Shatter - Weird Bump, but okay. Pretty drones and fuzzy textures with just clunky percussion; slow roller that might take a couple listens to pin down all the noises as cohesive. Solid track once the open hi-hat comes in and provides much needed meter and soft chords are really nice for the feel of the track.
Lay (Outro) - A lot of stress and misdirection. Just as with all the tracks on Spine, theres no deep message but deciphering the sounds are going to take a little bit of work. But it will feel good after you do.