Pilotpriest – Trans

bandcamp, 2016

When you listen to Pilotpriest’s album Trans, the cinematic angle is clear. Film often acts as an influence for experimental electronic music circles, but it’s a little different here. Pilotpriest is the musical outlet of Anthony Scott Burns, who is a visual effects artist and filmmaker who has worked on movies such as The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh and the horror anthology Holidays.

Trans is a soundtrack to a science fiction film that exists only in Burns’ mind (and ours, by extension). Despite its lo-fi tendencies and retro-analog sound, the composition is post-modern, bringing to mind genre artists like Oxyd, Polygon, and Forma Tadre. High praise, yes, but Pilotpriest belongs in that conversation, for Trans is a quietly stunning work.

The track that drew me to this album is “Now Be The Light,” an immediately arresting and melancholic space-opera anthem built around a wistful sing-song voice sample. Burns slowly surrounds the sample with a variety of carefully shaped sequences and keyboard chords, anchored by bass-synth and percussive loops, coaxing the track toward thrilling pinnacles before diving into slow-motion near-silence, only to ascend anew like a scintillating digital phoenix. As the track progresses, it always circles back to the little robotic tune, perhaps voiced by some infinitely lonelier cousin of WALL-E. Each component serves as foundation and amplification for this tiny voice, and the creative and technical spark flashes bright and often, gliding gracefully through its passages with the ease and wonder of breathing. This is the kind of track that you can listen to just to appreciate how well everything fits together – it’s neither too long nor too short, neither too experimental nor too predictable, and its sense of myriad rhythms impeccably wrought – but it’s more than its structure, tapping into the shared human experience in a way that all artists strive for but few achieve. For all its disparate parts, “Now Be The Light” is a singular and natural track, the kind that accompanies you through the day and welcomes you each time you plug in to revisit. I have a short list of electronic tracks that I consider perfect, and “Now Be The Light” holds a permanent place on it.

And this is just the beginning. “Now Be The Light” is the second of twelve tracks on Trans, and while the rest of the album never quite reaches the interstellar heights of “Now Be The Light,” Pilotpriest is quickly proven to be no mere one-hit wonder. Trans is a post-industrial classic alongside Oxyd’s Larva, Forma Tadre’s Navigator, and Polygon’s [images], managing a timeless sound with a fresh take on expression and assemblage. Most of the tracks on Trans are over five minutes in length, and all are solemn yet somehow playful outer-space anthems. Slow tempo and untreated piano are commonplace, the latter often twisting through melancholic melodies giving voice to the near-human yearnings of computers tasked to operate defunct and forgotten interstellar ghost ships for eternity, with nothing but their own memories to accompany them. Pilotpriest’s muses are the descendants of Kraftwerk’s playful man-machine, heir to infinite possibility but removed from history by error and circumstance. “Entrance” is particularly effective at expressing this bittersweet sadness, a tone enhanced when Burns’ lost AIs insert fragments of the voices of their long-gone human masters into the music, such as the trip-hoppish IDM hymns “I Am You” and “Skin.” Elsewhere, 4/4 structures are the backbone for “Lipstick” and “Strangle Part Two,” but these are crystalline designs, much too intricate for the raw power of the dancefloor.

Trans is a hidden classic, a burnished gem lost in a corner of the internet. Pilotpriest might not be a well-known name among post-industrial circles, but Burns’ project is more than deserving. Perhaps Trans is a bit too long, owing to the three comparatively rote bonus tracks, and perhaps the tone is a bit static, but when the music is so grounded, satisfying, and consistently brilliant, these issues cease being issues at all. Any album that not only contains a track like “Now Be The Light” but somehow manages to maintain the bar it sets is something rare and special. Pilotpriest is a particularly well-named project. Trans is a deeply reverential work, moving forward while embracing history and mourning its passage.


Timecop1983 – Running in the Dark

bandcamp, 2016

We live in an age that seems to suffer from an identity crisis. The cause of this is certainly debatable, but it’s likely due to many factors: the splintering of culture, the breakneck speed of modern life, the constant search for immediate meaning, the constantly growing population…..we can go on and on. Whatever the cause, more people are looking backward than ever before, and there comes a point when you wonder why.

The Eighties are a popular target, and it’s not just for nostalgic purposes (though I freely confess this is certainly a factor for me). Many people exist who are drawn to the 1980s of the United States in spite of the fact they were born in the following decades. Clearly, there is a reason.

Beyond the decadence of shows like Miami Vice, which exhibits indulgent materialism and the perceived cool that came with it, were a wide range of movies that were personal and deeply genuine, with an emotional spectrum created by the emerging sound of synth-based new wave music. The music has become to symbolize the coming-of-age angst of the films, while also recalling open white linen jackets and neon-streaked lines of slick Ferraris cruising the downtown strip. These are powerful connections, regardless of their origin.

Jordy Leenaerts has no doubt felt these effects. It’s tough to determine whether the Dutch artist, who records as Timecop1983, encountered the Eighties first-hand or through the ever-expanding retro scene lead by works such as Mitch Murder’s musical discography and Nicolas Winding Refn’s film Drive. We must remember, however, that examples such as these are undoubtedly modern works which are inspired by the Eighties rather than simply mimicking them.

Timecop1983 has carved its own corner into this burgeoning scene by focusing on what Leenaerts calls “a melancholic and romantic feeling” perhaps best expressed by the filmography of John Hughes (The Breakfast Club, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). In Hughes’ films, there’s a good deal of idealistic longing expressed by the main characters, who struggle to find themselves while caught in a web of social expectation, among other stresses of the industrialized West. Hughes’ films are noted for their soundtracks, often brought to fierce emotive life by bands of the time, and Timecop1983 aims to recapture this fiery vulnerability that has likely been experienced by every modern young person in some manner or other.

Running in the Dark is a seven-track EP of instrumental songs that Leenaerts composed for his live performances. What’s remarkable is how well these tracks fit together; they are inspired, infectious, and cleverly assembled. The 80s synths are deliciously airy, drifting through simple but affecting melodies within a pop framework; sometimes Timecop1983 teams with synthwave vocalists, and while these instances are remarkable indeed, the project’s strength lies in its instrumentation, as it is here. The keyboards are anchored by thudding 4/4 beats that powerfully offset the music’s grace; these are delicate but potent emotions, and the music portrays this perfectly. While retro/modern acts like Perturbator and, at times, Mitch Murder himself, focus on the sci-fi or action-film culture of the Eighties, Timecop1983 is concerned with the battleground inside, always restraining aggression in favor of mood.

“Come With Me” is both anthemic and hopeful, “Running in the Dark” swells with escapist drama, and “Dimensions” inspires and thrills with its glittering yet introspective refrain. And yet, the EP is not simply a tribute to the 80s, but also a product of the times that have passed since. Leenaerts keeps the listener guessing with percussive shifts, filtering effects, techno-inspired loops (“Somewhere We Can Go”) and a refined cinematic angle (“Visions”). But Timecop1983 is in no way defined by studio trickery. Regardless of the modern stylistic touches, the music’s heart thumps strong and clear: this is music about emerging and discovering, about recalling past loves, about dreaming of and reaching for the ideal. It is about the realization of genuine emotion, and the exploration that follows. These are timeless and transforming themes, which explains, perhaps, the project’s popularity among young and old throughout the world.

Regardless of the level of your attachment to the 80s, Timecop1983’s music is still noteworthy. Its singular identity, meticulous craftsmanship, and wistful energy combine to provide a listening experience that satisfies through its rhythms and lifts through its complex but powerful emotions. Add the retro layer, however, and Running in the Dark, along with the rest of the project’s discography, moves into another space entirely. This is music created with deep respect for a particular era in history, and while it certainly succeeds at engaging multiple eras at once, Leenaerts is careful to keep the blood of the Eighties pulsing and vital. Somewhere, John Hughes is surely smiling.

Distant Pulses – An Interview with Opollo

Jarek Leskiewicz understands the inner workings of ambient music. As Opollo, he weaves shoegaze guitar drones with electronic atmospheres, inspired by the beauty and mystery of the far reaches of deep space. Of A Distorted Star, the project’s newest release, shows distinct technical and aesthetic progression. Recently, teutonkhamat was given the opportunity to dive into Leskiewicz’ brain first-hand, to find out what makes Opollo tick, as well as gain some insight into this fascinating project’s origins.

[teutonkhamat]: Thank you for your time, Jarek. Let’s start with the origins of Opollo. What are your influences, in terms of style and concept?

 [Jarek Leskiewicz]: What drives me the most is the emotional mood of the moment and urge to explore the sound world without limiting myself to the rules of typical song-writing. I’ve always seen the Opollo setting as some kind of mad scientist laboratory or a malfunctioning spaceship drifting into the unknown. The influences go way back to my childhood.
As a little kid, I was exposed to Tangerine Dream’s Stratosfear and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon through my mom. I remember being scared by Floyd’s masterpiece and Stratosfear, while not very ambient, was quite a trance experience for me. I think I was programmed by both early on. On the other hand, my grandmother was working in most of the movie theatres in my hometown Opole, which basically became my kindergarten. It awakened my passion for movies and their soundtracks. The track that really planted my ambient yearning was Brian Eno’s “Prophecy Theme,” from David Lynch’s film Dune. It’s still one of my favourite ambient songs, and its influence is all over my music. It has that mysterious siren’s call quality and deep emotion about it.
I was very into science fiction (books, movies and even Polish fandom) so the classic Blade Runner score by Vangelis obviously had a shrine in my early teen room. Add to that the more intimate parts of Mark Isham’s soundtrack to The Hitcher, the absolutely precursory Solaris score by Eduard Artemiev, and the innovative sound design and audio effects of the Star Wars films and you will get the scope of my initial background. Maybe too obvious but very cinematic for sure.
Later on, I was heavy into alternative music. My adventure with shoegaze started with my love for 4AD (mostly Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil) and more industrial-rocking Curve, which I actually got into before discovering the pioneering sound of My Bloody Valentine, which influenced Curve in the first place! Medicine’s debut got me into crazy distortion, which developed my curiosity for the type of noise produced by Merzbow. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are countless other influences to my musical being.

That is a diverse beginning! How would you describe the evolution of Opollo and its sound? 

Opollo was born around 2009. As I was involved in some more “hard rocking” musical projects at the time, it started as my outlet for minimal, ethereal, contemplative music – something I worked on when I wanted to relax from focused, in your face productions and straightforward, defined sounds. It started as two-piece but we’ve never made a whole record together, although we played a cool live set at an ambient festival. The demos we wrote during that time have set the musical course of the project. I also decided on the NASA lab type visuals at that stage. The whole thing was obviously strongly inspired by Brian Eno’s groundbreaking record Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks. I also remember being intrigued by a photograph by my friend John Eder that depicted two skeletons in spacesuits standing at the platform of an empty underground station.

Opollo aims for a specific type of sound and concept. Are you involved with other projects that may have influenced your sound?

There were earlier projects of mine that influenced Opollo. One was Koloid, where I experimented with minimal drones and outlandish sounds, and the other one was Fault, where I played around heavy beats and developed wall-of-sound dense shoegaze-like guitar layers. That project was definitely more euphoric. Half-consciously I combined those two into the Opollo sound. Later on, I think Opollo had influenced some of my different projects, not the other way around. I started to include more ambient layers and drones in the structure of normal songs. Some Opollo ideas were also foundations for SPC ECO (“Pearls” or “Get Lost” for instance) and Zenith Myth (“Temple Dome”) tracks . One element that jumped back to Opollo was a voice. I don’t think I used any vocals on Rover Tracks but you can hear it on Stone Tapes and even more on Of A Distorted Star. It’s always used just as one of the layers though. You may hear some more similar stuff slipping into Opollo in the future. Heavy riffs, more vocals, or even live drums. It’s like that during live performances. I try to make it diverse and interesting for the audience…and myself.

Of a Distorted Star sees you returning to Bandcamp after working with a label. What factors influenced your decision?

I assembled Of A Distorted Star while working on a different Opollo record. It came more as a byproduct of it. I knew those tracks paint a slightly different picture. More intimate strokes and brushes. More emotional. Inner instead of outer space. I didn’t really want to get bogged down with looking for a label, negotiating contracts and a far release date. Creating a complete artwork takes a lot of time too. I just wanted to put it out for people to hear. To get it out of my system. I needed that.

What are some differences between self-promotion and working with a label?

I would describe self-promoting as quite hard. It’s always great to have a label to back you up with sending out promo copies to magazines and blogs. Having a hard copy of the record still helps a lot too. I wasn’t active in that aspect before digital platforms era so can’t really comment on that. I think it’s easier now for a striving artist who can have a web page as good as well-known acts, connecting directly with the audience. At the same time, there’s so much music out there that one feels like a drop in the ocean. For me Bandcamp is the best digital platform out there. Soundcloud is also cool but I usually prefer the visual presentation of Bandcamp. Each individual page looks more like a record to me. With the simple but great design tools, it’s easy to create a unique identity. 

It can be difficult to make a musical project stand out when digital releasing has become easier. Do you find that performing live is still important in the modern scene?

When it comes to live performances, yes, I think those are still the best ways of exposure and solidifying your name. To make the audience believe the artist/band is “real” and capable of performing the music. Having said that I play live sporadically. It’s always fun and quite an adventure but I’m mostly a studio hermit – that is my natural creative habitat. 

What people have helped the development of Opollo?

I think Martin Anderson of Dopedrone and Yeti Island is my best musical buddy. He always lends a helping hand and valuable perspective. I try to return the favour. He’s very talented and I really enjoy working with him on different projects. Another friend that helped a bit with Opollo is Filippo Gaetani, a producer and musician out of Tuscany. While he’s not really known for the kind of music that Opollo deals with, he’s an energetic and very competent musician. We often chat about movies too.
Marcin Lojek is a really cool designer and a fellow musician who helped with the Stone Tapes record. Marcin was always very supportive of my music. He’s also involved with excellent XAOC devices. He and the guys at Zoharum Records released Stone Tapes together.
I would also like to mention Przemek Kaminski, the man behind the Festiwal Ambientalny. He has such great taste for ambient, drone, and experimental music and each year brings top-notch acts to perform on the festival stages. Przemek has already invited Opollo twice, in 2009 and 2016, to take part in that amazing event, and both times it was a blast. The whole crew was very friendly, respectful of the artists and ultra helpful. Last year Opollo had the pleasure of sharing the stage with The Sight Below, Christoph Berg and Piotr Cisak & Freeze. Backstage I bumped into Juliana Barwick and Alex Leonard of Ebauche. All great, inspiring people.

When did it occur to you that music was more than a small hobby for you? 

As a teen, I was quite a passionate listener. I would lay down in my room for many hours or even days listening to the records. It wasn’t just background fun. My main focus was on the music played. It took me places. It was very escapist.
It was my religion and my homeworld. The courage to try and play or make the music myself was missing though. No skills in that regard. No one from my family was a musician. I was just a believer for many years.

What were your earliest experiments with music like?

It started (as it often does in the old days) with a bunch of close friends and a basement. Only one of us had an instrument. We banged on toy drums and cheesy Korean keyboards. One day I bought a very cheap, old, messed up guitar and a friend borrowed me his set of budget stompboxes. It went from there, but as I was always pretty allergic to learning things the usual way, it took me a long time to find my path. In my early twenties, I bought a computer station with an additional combination of music software and hardware, which was a milestone. I finally had the tools to express myself the way I needed to. It was never just a hobby. It was my vital fuel. My prescription drug. Maybe a bit of a curse too!

Please describe your current creative process.

For Opollo, the improvisational factor is very high. I get the best results this way, and also at the end of the day the music still has some mystery for myself. There’s usually some pre-production, though, where I collect sounds, drones, and ambiance, and later decide which ones inspire me to build upon and play around. This second phase is the most fun and the most creative. It’s where the magic happens. After that there are countless hours of tedious editing and rearranging, adding layers and early mastering, and dealing with self-doubt.

Where would you like Opollo to be in the next five years?

Five years? Hmmm… I don’t think that far with my projects. Probably to avoid some kind of creative anxiety caused by pressure. I usually know what I want to work on during the next few months or even a year, but there also come unexpected collaborations and propositions that influence the inventing process. You can’t predict what will inspire you or interest you in the future, or what surprises in life are waiting around the corner. I have a lot of unreleased material from the last two years, such as outtakes from the Of A Distorted Star sessions, as well as tracks made for live performances. I think there’s another LP or two EPs waiting to be finished and released. It’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it!

Thank you for your insights. It’s been a pleasure! I look forward to the next step in the evolution of Opollo.

Thank you for having me!

Opollo discography:

Rover Tracks (Bandcamp, 2012)
Stone Tapes (New Nihilism, 2015)
Of a Distorted Star (Bandcamp, 2017)

Very special thanks to Jarek Leskiewicz.


Opollo – Of a Distorted Star

bandcamp, 2017

Ambient music is no stranger to space. There have been so many albums examining the cosmic void that it would seem each visible star has its own unique soundtrack. As the universe can be interpreted in multiple ways, there are albums ranging from yawning nameless terror to wide-eyed saccharine wonder, and everything in between.

Opollo has broken the hold of Earth’s gravity before. It’s been two years since Jarek Leskiewicz launched his vessel beyond gravity’s reach, but while his two previous albums, Rover Tracks (2012) and Stone Tapes (2015), focused on our own planet’s lunar phenomena, Of a Distorted Star is destined for uncharted realms beyond our solar system. It’s a fitting shift in theme, for this is a refined and expanded Opollo, poised to navigate the corners of the starry deep with a newfound sense of assurance.

Opollo’s sound revolves around treated guitar drones, vast swaths of sonic layers that move and shift through gradual chord patterns. His earlier work as Opollo hinted at an epic scope, but shorter track times and experimentation seemed to impose limits on the music’s immersive quality. Of a Distorted Star addresses this with a flourish, as seven of the ten tracks are over five minutes in length. In addition, Leskiewicz’s guitars are more balanced with the music’s synthetic elements, resulting in a cohesive listen that retains its singular identity from start to finish.

There’s still variety here, but it’s carefully focused. The gentle twinkling sequence of “Magnitude” slowly expands into slow fuzzed-out guitar chords, but with keyboards equally prevalent in the mix. Slow-burn growth is nothing new for ambient, but Leskiewicz handles progression with confidence. “To Evaporate” is an even stronger example of this technique, with stirring chords that unfold gloriously against the uncertain light of swollen suns. “Recluse” and “The Man Who Couldn’t Breathe” are heavily cinematic, recalling Moby’s majestic track “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” and soundtrack work such as Marc Streitenfeld’s grand theme from Ridley Scott’s film Prometheus. Leskiewicz has followed this sound before, but never with such confidence, or so effectively.

Of a Distorted Star isn’t just guitar run through filters and effects. There are synthetic elements everywhere, from static-buried voices and keyboard beds to scattered samples and sequenced bursts, but these details never make the music too artificial. “Rapid Rotators,” my favorite moment of the album, and perhaps my favorite Opollo track, is almost completely guitar-free, evoking the awe and peace of orbiting a drifting celestial body while a variety of mechanisms buzz and fiddle in the background. This track seems the epitome of Opollo’s new direction, with its influences found throughout the album. Leskiewicz is no longer satisfied with just laying down overlapping drones, but has pushed his own boundaries with carefully planned and executed experimentation. The album’s closer, “Keep Shining the Dark Light,” is similarly dominated by electronics, and at over seven and a half minutes, is the longest track on the album. Its masterful blend of guitar, keyboard, and silence hints, perhaps, at the next stage of Opollo’s evolution; I do not think its title is accidental.

As signified by its closing track, Of a Distorted Star has captured a rare and delicate balance between what haunts and what illuminates. Opollo has always been too graceful to be termed strictly dark ambient, but its sound is also, thankfully, free from the overly earnest and flighty brightness that marks so many similarly themed ambient albums. Of a Distorted Star understands the mystery of the cosmos, in all its wonder and terror, and is a deeply moving soundtrack to a transforming journey into the unknown.

Memoirs – Memories of Old Friends and Days Past…

bandcamp, 2015

I’m not entirely sure how to categorize this one. Boardwalk ambient? Bioshock plunderphonics? Less an original production and more a curated playlist, Memories of Old Friends and Days Past… is a collection of golden-age radio tunes, mostly in their entirety, given the static-bed treatment by director Memoirs.

The album certainly evokes a former age, dominated as it is by tinny 1930s orchestra and distant warbling vocals, levels and fades delicately manipulated. As these tracks are lifted directly from what I assume is the public domain, they could be recognized by fans of the era, whether the titles Memoirs has given them are new or otherwise. “The Age of Reason” is a highlight, with a muted wistful piano backed by light percussion and incidental horns; a perfect backdrop to the submerged utopia of Rapture from the Bioshock video game series. In a similar vein, “Blue Bell Boy (To The Lost)” is just creepy enough to fit in Kubrick’s haunted Overlook Hotel.

The second half of Memories is less soundtrack and more ambient, though the retro melodies, audio tweaking, and grounded identity tend to nudge it from the subconscious into the realm of active listening. The thin reeds of “Margate Sands” seem lifted from a bit of triumphant propaganda, while “Havre de Grace” creates longing elegance through its lonesome and dramatic strings. The changing pace and mood of “The Good Listener” seem a perfect fit for a silent film, and the album closes with my favorite, “The Devil You Know,” a jaunting and haunting piano ditty that sounds as if it’s coming from the corner of a huge dusty mansion through multiple doors, the halls and rooms silent and decadent.

Memoirs has created an original retro radio station, harking back to a past era of history. The variety keeps the album from becoming stale, and it is a perfect audio portrait of a certain age. Perhaps Memories of Old Friends and Days Past… can be faulted for its lack of original production, but it still delivers an impressive listening and conceptual experience. One final note: if you’re into steampunk, you are hereby required to give this a listen immediately!

Kammarheit – Kollektionen

bandcamp, 2016

Kammarheit is a project that needs little introduction. Pär Boström’s flagship project is celebrated in dark ambient circles, and for good reason: it has an elemental and timeless sound that seems drawn directly from some alternate dimension of meditative shadow. There’s little dispute that albums such as Asleep and Well Hidden and The Starwheel are staples of the genre, if not outright classics, but there’s more depth to Kammarheit.

Kollektionen is, as its title suggests, a collection of tracks taken from various compilations, ranging from the mammoth Kalpamantra comps to more obscure oddities such as Compilation for a Cat. In addition to these, there is an unreleased track, “Arch,” all of which have been remastered by Cryo Chamber mastermind Simon Heath. Available only as a download from Kammarheit’s bandcamp site, Kollektionen is a must-listen, as it contains some of Boström’s best work.

It’s not easy to pinpoint the reason why Kammarheit is considered such an enduring and effective project. On the surface, the music follows a simple template: gradually interlaced beds of drone are punctuated by carefully placed loops. Part of Boström’s talent is in his arrangement. He allows silence to voice itself as much as his content; Kammarheit tracks are never overburdened or sluggish, and rarely do they overstay their welcome. Boström is also a gifted sound sculptor, able to draw strange, hauntingly organic, and near-familiar sounds from his machines. He occasionally imparts a musical sense to his compositions; the muted dulcimer-like chime of “Adrift” and the gracefully solemn chords of “Provenience” are of particular note. Regardless of structure, his work as Kammarheit (and as his superlative conceptual side-project Cities Last Broadcast), is ripe with awe and mystery. Kammarheit tracks seem to breathe, slowly and calmly, with natural rhythm. When the volume is cranked, new details are revealed, and the easier it is to fall into the dimensions unfolding from the speakers – quality headphones are recommended.

Take, for example, “I Found It Weeping in the Field.” It paints a stark landscape under a streaked sky, and the alien whimpers and lonely bleats of the curious entity hidden within the tall grass and ancient hillocks. The emotion is palpable without being threatening; it’s one of the finest examples of how Kammarheit’s work is often not dark at all, but hypnotically strange. It is the voice of abandoned places, and here, of the inhabitants who rarely show themselves.

Two of the most recent tracks, “Arch” and “The Excavation Site,” recall the subterranean majesty of Kammarheit’s 2016 album The Nest. Through use of vast echo and meticulous sonic placement and pacing, one feels instantly transported to the depths of the earth, to huge halls supported by grand pillars that dwarf the surface world’s most massive and aged trees. We can only speculate who carved these places, and why; Boström leaves it for us to decide, limiting his vision to the conjuring of atmosphere that envelops the listener. When Kammarheit adopts this concept, the aesthetics and immersion tread boldly through unmarked territory.

Add the arctic landscape of “Tundra,” the void-embracing “Kosmos,” and the dim serenity of “Landfall,” and Kollektionen starts to become a tour of Boström’s personal dreamlands. Taking this into account, and the album is just that – an album – rather than a jumble of randomly assembled tracks. This is an archive of Kammarheit finery that is, in many ways, the equal of the project’s official albums, and in my view, contains more quality than the six-disc Unearthed retrospective set (which is no slouch). Kollektionen is a genre essential, providing further proof that Boström is high king of the half-lit ambient realms.

蜃気楼MIRAGE – Hotel By Night

bandcamp, 1999

Upon first listen, Hotel By Night from 蜃気楼MIRAGE appears to be little more than a nice  collection of moody and relaxing electro-jazz tunes. There are light synths and electronic percussion lounging in the backdrop of subdued saxophone and piano; think of a less spliffed-out version of classic Thievery Corporation and you’d be on the right track. Peel back the slyness, however, and you’ll discover there’s quite a bit more going on.

蜃気楼MIRAGE, which translates roughly as “miragesync,” seems to be something of a prognosticator. The release of Hotel By Night contains the sense of place and personality of vaporwave despite predating the style’s birth by more than a decade. There’s an entire sub-genre of vaporwave based on elevator and shopping mall music, drawing from the numbing ambiance of such “muzak” in a tongue-in-cheek, wink-wink manner – sometimes to the point of being dismissively critical of the consumerism involved. While Hotel By Night resembles this type of ironically subtle music, it focuses on the ambiance and half-told stories that also mark a number of vaporwave releases.

蜃気楼MIRAGE includes a variety of Japanese-language samples in a handful of tracks, adding a human element to the music. The horns are never intrusive or manic; the music is clearly intended to be the sound of a jazz quartet quietly creating a luxuriant atmosphere in a corner of a dimly lit hotel bar. The tracks on Hotel By Night are all under two and a half minutes in length, but this creates the sense of the listener passing through the darkened lobby, glimpsing a couple in hushed and intimate conversation, which catching a snatch of midnight music wafting from the open door of the bar. In this sense, 蜃気楼MIRAGE has created a magnificent piece of ambient music, as the sense of identity and place is unusually strong; it’s not just about the music, as well-done as it is, but about how it communicates a larger and more personal fiction.

One particularly effective example of this is “goodbye,” in which a woman whispers what are almost certainly painful departing words to her forlorn and now-former lover, perhaps overheard in pieces from across a near-abandoned lobby at two in the morning. There are no horns here, just minimal lo-fi keyboards and guitar tracing lonely, highly cinematic melody. At the track’s close, the woman breathes “ciao” with a near-palpable combination of heartache and conviction, and we’re left only with that sensation. Our imagination is required to paint the rest of the picture, if we so desire, or we can just let the emotion define it.

A hotel by night is a place of relaxed luxury, and can also be a place of secrets best kept in the shadows of expensive rented rooms and silent corridors. Within this surprisingly dense twenty-four minutes is a world of lazily curling cigarette smoke, half-empty tumblers of scotch, loosened silk ties, and lipstick-smudged napkins. The horns are perfectly pitched and paced, the electronics suitably mixed down, and the atmosphere as thick as the velvet night outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. 蜃気楼MIRAGE is an anonymous project, but it’s fitting: both the project and its music hint at something beyond the surface. At a mere twenty-four minutes, Hotel By Night may be short on content, but it’s a powerfully realized and densely atmospheric sliver of the hidden corners of urban high-rise nocturnal life.