Living in the sub-tropics means that spring comes both early and ends quickly. Not two weeks ago we missed 5 days of university because of snow (admittedly it was kind of a fluke) and now for the past few days the weather has been dominated by mid-70’s temperatures and a lot of sun. Pretty soon those mid-70’s will be phased out by mid-90’s and a whole lot of humidity, but the cool thing about such a short spring is that you become all the more aware of how you’re environment changes and grows with the coming of the heat. You can physically see wildlife burst into periods of growth and begin to spread through the dormant landscapes of winter and watch the progression from the infancy of seedlings into the lush greens and browns that were painfully absent in the frigid temperatures.
A change in seasons also brings with it an entirely new environment in which to listen to music. I’ve always listened to music for its impressionistic and expressionistic qualities, so the environment I choose to listen to music in has to be evocative in some way of the world the music is trying to build. Winter has its strengths no doubt, but humans were designed by nature to exist in nature, and winter all too often forces man to break that connection with walls of comfort. Spring is the natural relief from this state, an invitation for us to come out of our warm houses and emerge into a virgin world born anew and ripe for exploration, both physically and mentally.
Strangely enough, electronic music has provoked reactions in response to the natural world that I’ve not really been able to replicate elsewhere. It seems quite contradictory that music made almost entirely of synthetic sounds would be able to relate so seamlessly to an environment that is almost ubiquitously organic, but for some reason these sounds function in ways that traditional instruments simply cannot. Perhaps it is the lack of context in synthetic sounds that allows for this kind of reaction, or the fact that electronic instruments are the closest humans have yet come to replicating the perfection in nature towards which all art strives. Regardless, the fact remains that some of the most sublimely natural experiences in my music listening history have been the result of a natural environment perfectly fusing with the synthetic world of electronic sounds.
So, just in time for the seasons to change, and for the emergence of mankind back into the natural world in which he was meant to inhabit, I have created a playlist of some of my favorite tracks to take a walk in the lukewarm, fresh spring sun, that are only similar in that they are completely synthetic. I’ve fashioned this list in a sort of chronological order to give you a soundtrack to a spring day that I would want to experience, so hopefully they can function for you in similar ways to how they have functioned for me.
1. Boards of Canada – Telephastic Workshop
It seems quite predictable that Boards of Canada would show up in a compilation like this, but that is for a very good reason. Music Has The Right To Children is the only CD I keep in my car when spring rolls around, if not solely for the fact that there is nothing else in this world quite like waking up at 8 AM in the morning and driving to work under a bright blue sky with the landscape still covered in the moist blanket of morning. Boards of Canada is usually seen as retrospective, but the immediacy of their music is unparalleled once you finally discover where the music has been trying to get you to go. Of all of the wonderful songs in this Scottish duo’s catalog, this track has turned more morning drives into sublime journeys that I can really remember. The key to a successful day is to begin in the right frame of mind, and I can think of no better way to do that than with this song and this album.
2. Secede – Foliage Pathway
Secede’s Tryshasla is perhaps the most organic record I own, even though 90% of the album is made with synthetic sounds. How this Dutch producer managed to make every inch of this album sound like it was plucked directly out of a Henri Rousseau painting I will never really understand, but that is exactly the environment in which it should be listened to. Just as the name implies, a solitary walk in the bright green of a budding spring landscape adds new dimensions to the experience which can’t easily be described in words. The entire album is worth a late April 10 AM hiking trip, but for the purposes of this list, Foliage Pathway is the perfect piece.
3. Freescha – Boyrgurl
Freecsha, rather unfortunately, gets lumped into the category of “Boards of Canada knockoff” all too often when there is so much more to their music that simply copying a style. Sure, it’s the same basic hazy, nostalgic approach to ambient techno that BoC pioneered in the mid-90’s, but filtered through a quite different perspective. Boyrgurl is very characteristic of this difference, which isn’t necessarily immediately apparent, but becomes so once you listen to it in just the right place. File this one under more tracks to listen to in the morning in early April.
4. The Future Sound of London – Flak
The morning is starting to wear off and the humidity is rising under the heat of the sun, and all you have is The Future Sound of London there to keep you company. That seems like a pretty good deal to me. Pioneering and perfecting all at once the organic “rainforest ambient” style of techno that would become heavily exploited in the mid-90’s electronic climate, no other album has quite been able to capture the magic of Lifeforms. Flak is like listening to dew evaporating from a bright green leaf and watching the sun be reflected in all directions from the prism of oxygen and hydrogen bonds of the water. Essential listening for the growth of new life.
5. Spacetime Continuum – Pressure
Similar in form to TFSOL but uniquely their own, Spacetime Continuum gets nowhere near the recognition they deserve. Pressure rivals anything the aforementioned group have done and creates a world that cannot easily be rivaled by almost anything I’ve ever heard. This track is essential to my bright, warm spring day playlist. When Pressure hits about 2:20 nothing else in the world matters for just a few fleeting seconds, and it can only be enhanced by making sure you’re in the right place when it happens.
6. Gas – Earthshake
This entire list could have very easily have been comprised of only tracks from em:t records, who are known for releasing albums from artists like Woob and for their very popular and extremely good compilation albums. But, of all of the wonderful music they’ve released, Mat Jarvis’s Gas works the best for this kind of list. Earthshake is an energetic, pulsing, organic composition that can transform any hot, midday funk into a brisk new experience and highlight the growing world around you with surprising potency. It’s past morning, so it’s time to start doing things, and this track will certainly help you to make that a reality.
7. James Ferraro Live At Primavera Sound 2012
The Live At Primavera Sound 2012 recording is strange for quite a few different reasons. Even for someone with as varied a catalog as James Ferraro, it doesn’t really sound like anything else he’s really done. It also could possibly be called the best thing that vaporwave has yet produced simply because it really doesn’t sound like anything else in the microgenre. It’s rather fitting that this track comes after The Future Sound of London because it sort of functions as a reinvisioning of the mid-90’s sound that they themselves pioneered, but filtered through that weird brain Ferraro has sitting on top of his shoulders. Luckily for us, that brain actually is organic, and this track melts into the natural environment to where you cannot easily separate the two. Essential.
8. Speedy J – Beam Me Up!
Despite it’s technologically charged name, Speedy J’s energetic Beam Me Up! is one one of the most energetic and organic electronic tracks I’ve ever listened to, and nothing else quite puts a little pep into my step on a clear, warm spring day like listening to this song. I couldn’t imagine a better track to take an early afternoon jog to, smelling to crisp air and feeling the warm-but-not-quite-too-hot kiss of the encroaching sun on your skin. Essential to any number of my spring days spent under a blue sky stroked with feathers of clouds and a descending sun in the air. Ding!
9. Deep Space Network Meet’s The Higher Intelligence Agency – Under Water Looking Up
The sun is starting to come down from its apogee and the thick greens and moist browns of morning have all but faded away, and the world seems to be bathed in a washed out light akin to looking at a picture through a glass full of water. This collaboration resulted in some of the most accomplished ambient techno of the 90’s, and Under Water Looking Up utilizes the impressionistic power of synthetic sounds to the highest degree. Take a walk in the afternoon shade and find out more about the world around you with this as a soundtrack, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
10. High Skies – Burning Buildings
I did say that this entire list could be made up of songs that em:t record have put out, and I wasn’t lying. Burning Buildings is a part of their fourth compilation release and one of the best tracks to be featured on any of the albums. Perfect for that time of day where everything seems lethargic and even the wildlife seems like it’s been lulled to sleep by the slowness of the air. The descending sun comes closer to reaching the horizon but it doesn’t matter, because the journey isn’t over quite yet.
11. Autechre – Nine
Autechre isn’t a name that’s often associated with organic, but I honestly would consider Amber to be one of the, if not the single most, organic records I own. It’s not organic in the traditional sense, but the more you listen to it the more you realize this the kind of music individual cells would listen to if they had a party inside your body. Nine is my favorite track of all time, and i’ve had non-drug induced out-of-body experiences while listening to it in just the right place. Make sure the sun is warm on your face, close your eyes and focus on the red-orange haze of the sun penetrating the fleshy, blood-filled folds that cover your eyes and you might be able to understand why every milisecond of this track is perfect.
12. Seefeel – Spangle
I’ve witnessed three sunsets to this song and I remember every single one of them. I remember being surrounded by trees in the fading, washed out dusk light of a spring day and seeing the reflections on the river glowing white and hot yellow, jumping back and fourth on the undulating, flowing water and for at least 7 minutes I was at peace with almost everything. Only truly wonderful music has the power to evoke these kinds of reactions and it is these experiences that drove me to make this list, in hopes that someone somewhere would be able to feel the sublime in ways similar to how I have. This is the end of the list, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your journey. I hope you’ve all enjoyed taking this little trip with me, and I encourage you to get out there and experience the world, because it has so much more to offer than you can possibly imagine.