New Batch – Inner Islands
3.14.16 by Scott Scholz

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Generally I’m all about the most note-dense, intense, wild musical excursions I can get my ears on. Composed or improvised, bring on the multiple layers, the contrapuntal races across time, the metrically modulating tempi in odd time signatures: if it’s headache-inducing, I’ll gladly suffer for the privilege of adventure.

But I’ve been mighty stressed in recent months, and sometimes the music I (think I) want isn’t the music I really need. In the last year, I’ve found myself turning regularly to the healing companionship evident in every curatorial move made by Oakland’s gently brilliant Inner Islands, and their latest pair of tapes will guide your next meditation toward a soft and supportive landing.

Channelers is the solo project of Inner Islands label guru Sean Conrad. The followup to last year’s excellent “They Are Cloaked in Stars and Rivers,” his “Essex” brings synth-driven pieces with just the right touch of acoustic instruments and field recordings to create balanced, immersive experiences. Opening with gentle ostinato figures and drifting synth pads, the album begins to take full shape around “Safe Space,” with guitars drenched in reverb and delay while insistent synth rhythms propel the piece. This piece is more rhythmic than most here, but not to the extent that you’ll fall out of the blissful state you’ve been nudged into: just a little definition to further shape your serenity.

The B-side opens with some nicely hazed banjo work amid synth drones, but the final piece is the real stunner here. “Longing to Swim in the Realm of My Childhood Dream” makes field recordings the foundation for evolving, breathing synth work. True to the childhood dream concept, many of these sounds morph and reverse on themselves, creating a restful yet surreal space. A great end to a serene pleasure of an album.

A kinder gentler iteration of Braeyden Jae, softest gives us six “wishes” over two sides. That’s twice as many wishes as the average genie, folks. And what gorgeous wishes they are—where Channelers often feels oceanic, softest evokes those ozone-heavy moments right after a good spring downpour. These pieces progress carefully, initially feeling a little static but gently evolving as they dry off in the sun. On the A side, the first three wishes feature electric guitar figures and vaguely symphonic synths drifting in and out of the mix. Melodies coalesce out of effervescent pads, with guitar strums at the perfect points of emphasis.

The B side introduces simple but very effective percussion. In “wish 4,” a simple kick drum pushes swirling arpeggios ever forward. The repetition here feels like a mantra with just a hint of vaporwave, like a phrase snipped from a soft rock prechorus as it repeats and mutates into something transcendent. Field recordings bubble in the mists of “wish 5,” and “wish 6” hosts subtle percussion under long, luxurious pads, while a keyboard melody asserts itself toward the end of the album.

I know it’s rough out there, but be sure to add “pick up the latest batch from Inner Islands” to your to-do list, and your tensions will be melting away soon enough.