Monday, August 21, 2017
A continuing point of interest for me has been the intersection of electronic and acoustic sounds: the interplay between mechanical and digital sound. It's what drew me to bands like Hundred Waters, Bayonne, or early Night Beds. The method of composition entwines these two radically separate ideas and blurs the line until you're not so sure what is processed and what is natural sound. Or at least that's what some of the best electronic acts have been able to do. Sometimes it's less about blurring that line and more about one informing the other. That's essentially what Photay's new album Onism sets out to achieve. Introduced to him through fellow ambient/chillwave artist Teen Daze, Onism was inspired by the nature documentaries on the 70s that largely relied on synthesizers.
It's an album at odds with itself: crafted in Brooklyn and other cities, a various national parks, and the Hudson Valley that Photay's Evan Shornstein calls home. The idea of Shornstein trying to rectify these normally conflicting places through his own electronic experimentation called me to Onism like a siren song. Unlike the electronic music I normally gravitate towards where it's hard to suss out just what is a naturally occurring sound and what is digitized/augmented, Shornstein relies almost purely on synthetic sound. Sure there's saxophone, cello, and even a balafon featured throughout the album but most impressively Shornstein seeks to capture a sense of place through the art of soundtrack almost. It's not about replicating the natural to conjure impressions of it, rather Shornstein takes the inspiration he feels from his forays into the natural world and let's it inform his sound. He's not trying to mimic or replicate, he's merely drawing necessary inspiration and filtering through his own lens. Perhaps the most surprising thing is how well this works and what makes a moment like "Aura", a rare moment of Shornstein actually singing, so effective. It's an album that even at its most bombastic strives for harmony and a sort of meditative calm. And Shornstein is adept at navigating these high energy moments and steering them into the sense of quiet that they all practically demand.
The most surprising thing about Onism: more so than how evocative Shornstein's ability to invoke these nature scenes in the mind's eye of the listener but how effective his ability to imbue even the most silent-striving moments of Onism with an engaging tension. Every moments on Onism is one of dynamic interest: a testament not only to Shornstein's talents in production but also of compositional prowess.
Photay's debut full length album Onism is out now on Astro Nautico.