Ghostly International is an Ann Arbor-founded and now Brooklyn-based independent record label that has released some of the most widely recognized experimental-pop and techno music in the last 20 years. It is also the home to a wide range of visual artist, designers, and technologists. The label was started in the late 1990s on a backbone of love for Detroit techno and the Detroit underground music scene by Sam Valenti IV and Matthew Dear. The open-ended aesthetic of the label has allowed an impressive roster to grow along with a loyal fan base.
Shigeto is, without a shred of doubt, one of the most important musical idols/inspirations in my life. From a musical and production standpoint his sound is intricate and enticing, but his pull from my perspective comes more from his overall career and how he has structured his “business.” I see all of his endeavors as serving a larger goal of giving back to the communities that have fostered his development. These endeavors have mainly revolved around the Detroit and Ann Arbor, MI scenes and, being a fellow Ann Arbor native, I feel incredibly fortunate to have benefitted from many of his projects.
Most recently, the Portage Garage Sounds label (founded by Zach Saginaw aka Shigeto, and his brother Ben Saginaw aka Kenjiro) residency on Thursday in Ann Arbor has been a must-go for my friends and me. A chance to unwind, sit with friends, dance, or observe some incredible DJing chops, it is a perfect example of how seriously Shigeto takes cultivating and curating a thriving scene for a community close to him to enjoy.
No Better Time Than Now was my introduction to the work of this producer, drummer, and DJ despite it being his third full-length release. The myriad of influences fly by in a dizzying wave as this album progresses. It disorienting in the most positive sense of the word and all stems from his unbelievable grasp of rhythm and time. “First Saturn Ring” acts almost as a powering on sequence, a feeling made stronger by the slowly intensifying synth arpeggios and soulful chord changes. After booting up, “Detroit Part 1” sets a pace of driving sounds and beats that are carried through the rest of the album.
A new world and new structure is built with each track often with light and subtle touches of beauty. This process is no more present than it is in “Miss U” and “Safe In Here.” The most beautiful track to my ear is “Silver Lining.” A grove is slowly built behind textured piano and kalimba samples. The rich, tape soaked sound hugs the listener bringing to life the portrayal of a silver lining shining through.
The variety within Shigeto’s catalogue never fails to amaze me. I can always find my way towards new elements to tune into within his music and there is something to fit every mood. But like I said, if there is one thing I take away from Shigeto it is how he has built his career and how he chooses to give back. Thanks, Shigeto, and see you on Thursday.
I’m a sucker for music that comes from visual artists. The way I almost always hear music and write music is grounded heavily in visual imagery. I think this draws me to artists whose creativity lies in both of these worlds. I found Tycho’s music at a time where my desire to seriously pursue music grew and my awareness of what was sonically inspiring to me was consistently at a heightened state. Awake, the third studio album for Tycho, became influential in the growth of my understanding production methods, sound design, and generally my preferred musical aesthetic.
Scott Hansen is the mind behind Tycho, and ISO50 for his photographic and design pursuits. The most striking aspect of his music will always remain the effortless blend of organic sounds, vintage hardware, and modern aesthetic into a singular and unique voice. It is this well documented post-rock and ambient mixture that feeds into the driving bass and rhythm under colorful and broad colors and textures.
There are a few qualities of this album that standout to me as being products of Tycho’s experience with visual art–the awareness and use of texture along with the uncanny sense of space and depth throughout the record. There is never an element out of place or jarring with entrances or exits. Everything has a place and a role in the building of tension or the changing of perspective. “Awake,” the opening and title track for this album, is a perfect demonstration of the masterful build Hansen can conjure in this album. The way the album is mixed, the listener is able to enjoy the intimacy of the drums and guitar attacks while simultaneously gazing in the deep landscape created by beautiful reverb.
“Dye” slowly crawls towards euphoria as Hansen and his band reach a climactic arrival in the final minutes of the track. With a strategic thinning of texture before this moment, the arrival of echoing guitar chords carries a surprising amount of emotional weight.
I hear the opening of “See” in a similar light and quality as the opening of “Awake.” There is the mesmerizing duality of intimacy and vast open space heard with the opening and echoing guitar notes. The claps that begin the track carry with them a slight grit or crackle that settles in perfectly to the clean and pure mix that follows. It is a moment when the seamless connection between organic sounds and modern aesthetics is clearly exposed for the listener to enjoy.
This is one of the first albums where the importance of listening to a project front to back struck me. In a time where music is created to fit a model that is geared towards on demand streaming and short attention spans, the message an artist is trying to convey across an entire project is often lost. Each of the eight tracks on Awake can stand alone as a beautifully crafted song, but there is certainly a macro sense of build and development felt when these track are woven together. It’s beautiful, it’s colorful, and it’s a strikingly emotional release that has the ability to invoke strong imagery while you listen. Close your eyes and enjoy.
Across all Ghostly International releases, a common trait is an unbelievable attention to the quality of sound. There is so much to learn from the mixing techniques of the roster of Ghostly artists and each of their individual styles. Lusine’s Sensorimotor has emerged, to me, as one of the most compelling releases on this label for its meticulous attention to detail.
Jeff Mcllwain has released many projects for Ghostly since 2003, but this latest release seems to lean in a more meditative direction, almost as if beautifully suspended in time. “Canopy” is the stunning opening track to this album. It begins with a slow fade in of bells and music box chimes creating a shimmering cloud. As if born from this cloud, a pulsing and gritty melody appears. It is an almost five-minute build that leads into my favorite track on the album.
“Ticking Hands,” is more rhythmically driven than the opening statement from Sensorimotor, but presents an equally visceral profile. The featured vocalist on this track is Mcllwain’s wife, Sarah. Through the processed vocals and somewhat sporadic melodic plucks of the track, a story of separation appears. The couple wrote the track together “as a king of catharsis of the time we spend apart when I’m touring.”
The driving rhythmic pulse continues for the remainder of the album with a few exceptions such as “Chatter” that hark back to the opening thoughts of the album. “Won’t Forget” reintroduces a heavy groove after “Chatter” with masterful vocal chops and a chord progression that leaves a pop-influenced silhouette on this attention grabbing track. “Flyaway” is a thumping and pulsing synth anthem that is paced perfectly, gradually adding layers that compliment an already captivating rhythmic foundation.
I discovered Lusine completely by accident and I am forever grateful for this discovery. The Texas-raised and Seattle-based musician can evoke personality and emotion from the warm melodies and arsenal of electronic tools at his disposal. The most compelling elements of his previous releases seem to have converged on this 2017 release finding the perfect balance of experimentation and strong musical reflexes.