yeule Serotonin II

[Bayonet; 2019]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: dream pop, ambient
Others: Baths, Meishi Smile, Dasychira

If video games are a means of escapism, why are the medium’s most addictive offerings so rooted in tedium? Titles like Animal Crossing and Night in the Woods revolve almost solely around household chores and conversations with zoological neighbors, the former sticking players with a hefty mortgage to pay off as an initial plot device. Grinding — a catch-all term used to refer to the boring tasks you slog through to earn rewards — is a core mechanic in most RPGs. Even in the digital realms of the unreal, we cling to the mundane as if to tether ourselves to the flesh.

London dream pop producer yeule, named for a Final Fantasy character (see above), crafts delicate ambience perfectly suited for virtual ennui on debut album serotonin ii. Opening tracks “Your Shadow” and “Poison Arrow” are laden with SFX sparkles and fantasy synth leads, conjuring a translucent HUD screen on which one might organize potions or amulets before a battle with some Lovecraftian horror. If Brian Eno made music for airports, this is music for loading screens and item shops: the interstices of adventure.

The duality of virtual and physical selves is a concept we often explore Tiny Mix Tapes, but yeule’s exploration of the territory is nuanced enough to warrant another look. SOPHIE and the PC Music crew revel in the joy of infinite, customizable expression, while Bandcamp’s bedroom pop scene indulges in the same anonymous catharsis afforded through an emotional breakdown on a finsta account. serotonin ii draws aesthetic influence from both camps, yet it expresses an entirely insular sense of longing for human connection through inhuman channels.

More specifically, yeule longs for an internet that predates the monocultural conglomeration of social media — an internet of small, niche communities that have been all but decimated by the institutions of Facebook, Twitter, et al. “Back then on Tumblr we had these playlists on ‘trntblʼ and thatʼs how we shared music to each other,” she told Vice in an interview last year. “Trntbl doesnʼt exist anymore, so all of those playlists of mine have disappeared into the void. I had a lot of shoegaze in there — My Bloody Valentine, Yo La Tengo, Weekend, Bowery Electric, Slowdive.”

“Pixel Affection” re-imagines the layered, grainy textures of these influences as synth chords pulsing against a 4-on-the-floor kick, bobbing under stray sine waves and vocal chops. “Pour my heart into simulation, digital in reciprocation,” she sings. “I’m trying to remember your name then/ The memory before I awaken is coded to a million fragments.” The track feels like an ode to the internet friend you’ve lost contact with over time, a saved chat log being the only evidence left of your connection.

Melancholia aside, it’s serotonin ii’s impeccable sound design that has kept me coming back. “Blue Butterfly” houses the record’s most immersive soundscapes, built up from undulating strings, glassy windchimes, fluttering glitches, and vocals that reverberate endlessly. Closer “Veil of Darkness” also feels like a world unto itself, pitting a cloud of reversed piano samples and pads against apocalyptic hail storms of industrial percussion, as if to jostle the listener from their reverie and nudge them back into the world.

“While you’re playing yourself out in lonesome dissipation in front of a pinball machine, someone else might be reading through Proust. Still another might be engaged in heavy petting with a girlfriend at a drive-in theater showing of Paths of Courage. The one could well become a writer, witness to the age; the others, a happily married couple. Pinball machines, however, won’t lead you anywhere.

Just the replay light. Replay, replay, replay…”
– Haruki Murakami, Pinball, 1973

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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