At a time when musicians can work just as productively in the comfort of their kitchen as they can in the studio, why might some listeners find prolificacy objectionable? The strongest argument dictates that when an artist releases a number of albums in rapid succession, the amount of time spent on each recording is far less than an artist or group who takes more care with their work; therefore, the resulting tunes are assumed to be poorer, because time is perceived as integral to effort, and when less energy is being put into recording, the music is destined to be botched and shabby. An important counter argument comes in the form of Alex Gray, a Los Angeles-based producer who drops shit loads of material on a regular basis. It was only a month ago when I wrote about his other project D/P/I, and since then, he has released his latest album as Deep Magic. Reflections of Most Forgotten Love is stylistically opposed to Espresso Digital (though it carries similar tropes and techniques) and an arresting example of how a prolific musician can continue to produce high-quality output over a short period of time.
Generally speaking, then, the time vs. effort calculation is often misconstrued. Of course skill is earned through practice and increases with experience. But should it follow that more time need be spent in refining one’s craft than releasing material? Or can this be done simultaneously? The former line of argumentation persists, but it’s based on previous methods of production, while there is a drastic shift in the way that musicians are now able to record and the way their fans consume. Not only is the number of artists who frequently release daring and high-quality music (Sean McCann, Felicia Atkinson, and Arrington de Dionyso spring to mind) becoming more noticeable, but the dimensions of prolificacy are altering. Whereas musicians were once limited to the confides of a studio and dependent on fitting into their label’s agenda, home recordings and digital releases allow for broader opportunities, which have been fully utilized by the artist at hand.
Gray’s music tends to differ according to favored tags or labels; where D/P/I poses jagged thrusts of technical gush through tracks that alter wildly in tempo, Deep Magic embodies a concentrated, less frantic tone in its lava-lamp ambiance. Following a split cassette release with Pimmon back in February, this is the first Deep Magic full-length of 2013, and it serves as a record that adheres to an expected calm, meditative angle. The moniker is reserved for experiments within an unwound framework that is diametrically opposed to the argument against prolificacy — for if nothing else, it precisely demonstrates the artist’s collected and refined production strategy.
Reflections offers an unruffled version of the sonic planes visited elsewhere in the artist’s catalog. Stylistic preferences expose tranquil instrumentation that drifts over shallow distortion waves, surface crackle, and tape hiss: the acoustic strings on “Only You” set the tone wonderfully as they backspin in and out of crisp feedback; a babbling brook trickles across “Alone in Her Cave,” which frames Gray’s unique approach to drone music; and “I’ve Been Thinking” is all piano sequences, tropical maneuvers, and trippy echo. The samples spun throughout the album are tactfully anchored — a demonstration of the care taken within every recording and the feeling it projects. Reflections has been pitched as a spiritual release, though I wouldn’t call it that exactly. The mood is contemplative and thoughtful, an embodiment of how a musician can maintain a degree of prolificacy while demonstrating incredible tact and composure. This is bolstered by both the use of field recordings within the production and the delicate way that each sample teems throughout. The pace is mellow but engaging, where a splendid balance is struck between long-form compositions and impassioned melodies.
It’s difficult to say exactly how much time was spent assembling Reflections; the weeks separating this release and Espresso Digital offer little insight, let alone an answer as to how much effort was put in. Prolificacy plays a minor role here; even though Gray is releasing multiple albums every year, there is clearly no grand calculation to determine how good a track will sound by counting the days between each release — it’s all completely relative and dependent on creative objectivity. In the case of Reflections, Gray has crafted an album that is texturally rich, collected, and exquisitely paced — there is no hint of the project being rushed or the artist hurriedly bodging something up at the last minute to meet a deadline — these tunes are as finely sewn together as their calm and contemplative mood indicates. To claim this as one of Gray’s most essential releases wouldn’t be doing his graft any justice, but under the Deep Magic moniker, he has proved himself unique in exceeding the common expectations of prolificacy through yet another 2013 full-length that’s just as remarkable as you might have expected.