San Francisco-based audio-visual artist Daniel Durrett breaks it down for us on these five tracks of smooth, instrumental electronica. elements deals with the four major elements, as well as the disputed fifth one, spirit. In an interesting aesthetic move, Durrett seems to eschew organic instruments and the compositions sound like they were mostly constructed around synthesizers, drum machines and digital audio workstations - the works. It makes sense given Durrett's background; he had a hand in the creation of the first Shure USB microphone, which sounds significant but I'm not paid to dish on engineering history.
The album's MO is to "encompass the mood and textures that each element produces in nature." These experiments are always fun because who can say exactly how an individual will interpret the elements? There are unexpected twists, too. "Earth" uses a subtle sitar sample over rollicking percussive breaks that quake like it was coming out of Los Angeles. "Fire" sounds surprisingly tame, even as the composition grows more complex, like a fire consuming a field. The subjectivity can make for a difficult listen, as not all the tracks hit the mark of what I feel their element should sound like. Then again, this helps build dialogue between the musician and audience. "Water" is a great introduction for me because the tropical sound effects and sun-bleached drum machines make me think of the beach. "Fire" as I've already mentioned does not sound as violent or powerful as I think it should be.
"Air" is the most powerful track, and the one I think best encompasses the traits of its element. Slowly ascending ambient hooks, nebulous chips and slow melodic percussion make this cut the easiest to identify with. It's slow-moving but gorgeous, like a giant cloud cover that barely allows sunlight to pass through. The mood is anything but despondent.
I'd also like to draw attention to "Spirit" because of its status as the fifth element. It's a comparatively lighter affair than its brethren, with skittish sound effects that produce an aura of unsureness. The music itself sounds delicate and exploratory, with simple beat patterns poking their nose out from the ground and eventually unearthing themselves until the song can sustain its textures. I like where Durret goes with this, especially the pronounced blips and flat synth lines midway through the song.
Elements is an interesting release, not only for its concept but for its accessibility. This should be one of those albums that divide listeners on first listen but the songs are accommodating and very easy to warm up to. Too electronic to be rural, too light to be urban, the music exists somewhere between natural history and man's increasingly wide footprint.
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