With the continued popularity in music sites that advocate sharing across multiple platforms and “name your price” consumer incentives, fluctuating patterns in the distribution of home (or bedroom) recordings have never been so fascinating to observe. Due to the sheer volume of content that’s now available, filtering through these platforms for noteworthy releases can take up a fair amount time, but it’s become such a prevalent way to ‘“discover” new music that there are even numerous sites dedicated to doing all the hard work for you. But what’s the most one can really expect to find in a seemingly endless library of new tunes?
Sometimes, deep within the ever-expanding catalogs of the web, an album has such a profound impact that it makes all those hours spent trawling worthwhile. Zirconia Reign is one such album, highlighted a few weeks back by our Chocolate Grinder editor as a release that leads “listeners on a sonic tour of how life FEELS in a post-digital world.” My desire to flesh this idea out stems from an assured agreement with the writer concerned: Magic Fades and Soul Ipsum have crafted something exceptional here, a soundtrack to that online filtering experience and everything it represents.
Magic Fades are a Portland duo that came to our attention last year when they played SPF420 3.0 before dropping their excellent Midnight Temptations on Bandcamp. Soul Ipsum released Botanicals at around the same time, which has led to both acts ramping up supporters and followers ever since. This collaboration is an extraordinary meeting of minds and a melding of aesthetic preferences that has brought the non-conceptual premise behind this work to life. Although Zirconia Reign lends itself to all sorts of theorizing and inference by virtue of its distribution channels and references to gushing 90s R&B, the resulting tracks are ultimately about a small group of producers layering, chopping, and mixing sounds that they enjoy.
The subsequent works are a refined extension of the digital kicks we are all privy to — the highs and lows of a life online. Rather than adhering to a certain genre or style, the songs comply with a cohesive set of aesthetic principles, fusing bass-slapping funk with lo-fi vocal R&B and tepid hip-hop beats to achieve an atmosphere that points to ideas of “the future” without necessarily transporting its audience there. The aesthetic is more resolute than that, pinpointing effects and moods that are often a product of the past, while the focus remains on obtaining the coolest drop or the most pristine vocal textures.
But that’s not to say the mood is static; the responses induced by each track take you to distant worlds. The music is powerful and consistent enough to induce a train of thought that grows all around you. Although you are still able to feel the digital inflections that loop and flutter by means of their synthetic dimension, there is no underlying theory or concept outside of their provocation to entertain. Label 1080p speaks of signifiers, but I understand such compositional deftness to be an allusion to spiraling fantasies — a hybrid of the virtual and the real, the past and the present. This space often stimulates intrigue because of the implications it has, the consequences of digital natives blurring the lines between the physical and the virtual.
Zirconia Reign doesn’t set out to inspire such thinking, but it does create a gateway for contemplation. The album came about after “a couple of sessions fueled by kush, coffee and tonnes of LaCroix pink grapefruit soda water,” where each track resulted from interaction in the physical world; an enhancement of united appreciation for rhythms, beats, and motifs, with little care for appropriation. These dazzling tracks hold the potential to pry open even the most stubborn imagination while solidifying ideas about texture and fluidity. The percussion on “Autoerotic Cubicle,” for example, ends with rapid-fire pulsation that slips into the metallic cool of “Dumb Wrist .obj.” Then there’s the kosmiche-slanted intro on “Xtraclean” and the skewed robotics of “Top Flex Kush” — these are premeditated, stylistic crossovers that feed into an impeccable flow, which is shaded by the moods that punctuate it.
Factions of dark and light manifest into singular entities, which form the makeup of each tune; the panpipes of “Velour Assassin,” for instance, are swallowed by graceful synth keys before filtering into a tubular tirade of piano, quieted vocals, and shotgun-pump action. These contrasts are the mindset, the brushstrokes that animate both the listener’s response and the artists’ intent while in the unconscious throes of the digital landscape. Contrasts then collide on tracks like “Bahamas Club,” which is brighter on first glance, even though it’s cradled in a dark and drone-like synth; it provides an outline of the artists’ pallet, about the conversations they were having with each other and the harmony of their taste — violins, harps, and the sound of a carbonated beverage being cracked open.
“Juicy Torque” brings these sensations to a dizzying climax, mostly because of the way that the vocals are handled. There’s a feeling of shyness, of concern and deliberation, which is projected through whipped-up, airy textures that are cast down, thrust into deep-heavy and dark effects. The vocal patters away to shifts in pitch and frequency before some twisted thud propels the piece into a dub-heavy cascade, where the beats are pistons that drive into the mettle of this music, engraving a determined signature into the album’s very fabric.
It’s impossible not to get lost in the stylistic range that exists here. Each track pulls on a calculated vibe, which gives rise to the polished consistency that ties the album together. Despite the number of people looking for ways to express themselves through music online, very rarely will an album carry such tender resonance, even when it’s unintended. Perhaps this response is a misfiring, then, a series of interpretations construed by an imagination run wild. But when an album has the capacity to conjure such an emotive reaction, you know you’ve stumbled across something remarkable.