Deramico – Light Pollution

Light Pollution, the latest release from Austin, TX electronic music artist Deramico, is a collection of smooth, crystalline chill-out tracks of incredible depth and impeccable energy.  Right out of the gate, “Feeling better on sleepless nights” pleases with its lush pads and smooth, featureless bass.

Add in some pleasantly plinking synth bits and you really begin to hear the sonic lineage of Orbital and early Aphex Twin seep through.  The drums eventually arrive, but they don’t overwhelm the song by any means.  The beat is simple, varied, and tied-in directly to the rising and falling action of the song in a mature, composed way.  The use of cut-off filters isn’t just standard practice for this kind of music: they are used with great strategic subtlety.

I enjoy this music because the imagery, for me, is firmly rooted in the future.  Technology yet to be born; world events yet to transpire; new ways of thinking about and looking at the universe; re-shaping the human race entirely and leaving the old world in obscurity – this is the appeal of the “future” to those of us who speculate about it.  Art assists us with this contemplation.

Futuristic music, especially, can generate rich, immersive environments for our imaginations to run wild in.  The power of this music reached me when I was very young and didn’t quite understand what I was hearing.  The synth and programming work on Michael Jackson’s “Bad,” the sprinklings of synths and samples in Fleetwood Mac’s “Tango in the Night,” 80’s synth pop and darkwave, and finally when I was older: The Future Sounds of London, Orbital, Aphex Twin, and so on.

Then, everything changed.  The future, as portrayed by modern electronic music, started sounding louder, cheesier, less imaginative, more commercial, too derivative, purposefully meaningless, and gimmicky.  Dubstep, as we know it today, relies on a limited set of tools and a restrained imagination.  Dubstep isn’t created to provoke thought, in my opinion.  It’s purely about selling a product.  I’m not sure I’ve met anyone who can even dance to it.

Elsewhere, we are haunted by the specter of spurious new genres of music like “Trap” and “Big Room,” both of which sound like bedroom producers attempted to hybridize hip hop and EDM but gave up halfway through and called it good.  Trance music, I can only imagine, is now mostly listened to by housewives during their morning workout routine, where they privately relive their days as candy kids.

Electronic-based musical artists with exceptionally pronounced “marquee value” – like Massive Attack, Nine Inch Nails, Kraftwerk, Daft Punk, and others – have transcended the death of the genres the birthed them and now focus on increasing the scope of their respective brands.  Their primary demographic is one steeped in a preference for nostalgia (read: before music started to suck.)

But new electronic music doesn’t really suck, at least not as much as one might think.  Great electronic music, full of imagination and feeling and imagery, has largely gone underground.  Success, and the struggle to maintain it, has distracted some of our brightest stars from the work of creating truly inspirational sounds, whereas the lowly home producer has the time, patience, and discipline to pursue experiments and complete ideas that fall outside of the mainstream.

I think Deramico has created something here that reminds me of artists and records from the past, but the amount of variation and hyper-detailed structuring of these compositions eclipses those comparisons.

At first glance, Light Pollution is minimalist; spare elements crowd together in various combinations within a number of different spaces.  However, the songs change and mutate over time.  Loops aren’t strictly loops anymore and while the songs progress via the addition and removal of layers, those layers end up changing themselves.

The danger here is that if the casual listener isn’t paying enough attention, a given song can begin to sound repetitive and inert.  It’s not true, but without examining each sound and its relationship to the arrangement you might not know it.

Great care was taken with this precision record, and it deserves – no, demands – a precision listen.  And then, when you learn these songs, and understand what they are trying to explore and how, they comfortably sit inside any background music mix you may use to clean house to.

Electronic music isn’t really always about dancing, and I didn’t find myself having a real desire to move in time to the music.  The music is more about imagery than anything, moving ideas around in your head and providing a clean, elegant framework for the enjoyment of melody, rhythm, and harmony.  “Skyscrapers” is the perfect example of this: chalk full of ideas that tickle your mind without inducing the desire to move.

On the other hand, “Forever until death makes us part” is kind of groovy, despite it’s organic piano chords and stripped-down production.  “Dive,” “Phantomicide,” and “Six” are almost pure dance tracks, with more insistent beats and more traditional tools from bygone dance floors.

And while they are just as well-executed as the other less beat-oriented songs, they aren’t my favorites.  If anything, they slightly undercut Deramico’s overall talent for staking out new territory and fighting the urge to lean “pop.”  That said, they are still enjoyable – but by the end of the record, you’ve heard Deramico do far more interesting things.

“Forgotten” is the best balance between Deramico’s split personality.  Yes there is a beat for a large portion of the song, but it comes and goes.  The songs feels consumed by atmosphere, stronger than the catchy beat.  The sequenced synth parts are the main attraction: how they undulate, curl, and expand.

The album eventually dives into piano – not a tacky, over-effected piano – but one that sounds natural, recorded in a room and played by a human being.  That “human touch” has been there the whole time throughout the record, and the fact that all of the synths and beats sort of dissolve away over the last few songs is a brilliant arch to this record, as though it had an overall trajectory from machine to human the whole time.

Electronic music is easy to make, and everyone knows it – and that’s why it’s hard to take electronic music producers seriously.  Every now and then, however, you come across a producer and a record that is undeniably sophisticated and cleverly sculpted.  Light Pollution’s hidden complexity, triumphant humanity, and competent imagination are not up for debate.