Speaking the language of water has also been an intriguing concept for music.
However, I’m not sure Nicole Scherzinger’s recent hit ‘Wet’ is a philosophical musing about the essence of water. It probably just describes that time she locked herself in a McDonald’s disabled toilet and frigged herself senseless over the memory of Lewis Hamilton’s face.
A better example was from marine biologist, JÃ¼rgen MÃ¼ller, who recorded his masterpiece Science of the Sea in 1979 and used early electronic music to explore the sounds of the ocean.
A recent piece of intriguing electronic music came from Balam Acab, who released his EP See Birds last year on Tri Angle Records. It was quickly labelled as ‘witch house’, ‘rape gaze’ or some other arsewipe term. Rape gaze? The only type of musical experience this could describe would be Steven Tyler, crooning above you, with his lecherous duck face.
The ‘witch house’ scene basically started with Salem and their drugged beats, which felt similar to injecting heroin into your eyeballs. This then lead to an onslaught of artists with names consisting of triangles and backslashes. Using symbols is nothing new. Prince did it decades ago and it was shit then.
However, regardless of genre, Balam Acab’s new album demonstrates he has more individual aims.
The cover for Balam Acab’s new album Wander/Wonder is a photograph of an underwater scene. Like this image, the album feels like a murky and submerged place, with the occasional shaft of light making its way down.
‘Welcome’ opens the album with bubbles as if the listener is being immersed in water and sinking down. The track builds with short bursts of operatic vocals, which sound like an angel trapped underwater. It reminds of Burial and his use of haunted sounds. In the last minute, the track spills into something pulsing, and then ends with the calming sound of waves.
Following track ‘Apart’ takes a longer time to build but feels more beat-driven. It uses a high-pitched vocal that resembles a chipmunk. However, Balam Acab manages to drag out the melancholia from these aspects to produce something more fragile.
The album builds to the midpoint ‘Oh Why’. This starts with lullaby-like vocals and piano sounds that lead to high and low-pitched vocals playing off each other. Balam Acab then introduces a thudding bass and a rising, aquatic-like synth to produce a dizzying and sublime effect.
Last track ‘Under’ uses the same vocals as that of ‘Oh Why’. However, these are used in a completely different way. It reminds of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, in which the same script is used in two auditions but to very different effect. This time the vocals feel calmer, more assured. There is growing swell of waves and electronic beeps until the music begins to calm.
Wander/Wonder may be a little hazy for some: once it has been heard, it cannot really be brought back with clear memory. It feels like a distant dream that you cannot quite describe. This may be a flaw for some listeners.
In its defence, the puzzling nature of the album helps to question the possibilities of sound, and isn’t that a main concern of music?
As well as its emotional effects, Wander/Wonder could have detrimental effects on your bladder. I’d avoid listening to it on the bus. The constant sound of waves could make you piss yourself.