4. Twenty Twenty
The intersection between electronic and organic instrumentation is a subject I’ve often found myself pondering, because the possibilities for real innovation and beauty are so clear but so few producers manage to get it right. Here Brian Simon sheds new light on the subject on his latest EP as Anenon for his own Non Projects label, crafting a cinematic and introspective record that treads new ground without ever feeling insistent or misdirected.
Using little more than a tenor sax, a Rhodes piano and a 909 drum machine, Anenon showcases variations on a delicate and refined sound, leaving a lot of the organic instrumentals richly untreated and combining them with clever drum patterns to great effect. Apparently the EP was crafted in two weeks, one for recording at the Red Bull Music Academy in Madrid and another mixing at home, but Acquiescence feels like an impossible combination between improvisation and perfectionism; with spontaneous and vibrant instrumentation that simultaneously feels carefully composed to provide a series of heartstoppingly beautiful moments embedded in deeply atmospheric soundscapes. This being the case, it’s fitting how Simon himself views production, comparing making records to live improvisation in an xlr8r interview, “It’s like slowed-down improvising for me. I take a microscope and make things how I want them to be, because, why wouldn’t I do that?” Considering the gorgeous sounds on display here, the statement seems to challenge other similarly-minded producers to give their tracks a little more time under the microscope.
While light, opening track Clairvoyance is the perfect introduction to this sound, building layers of ambient textures over a stripped hint of percussion and gradually deepening piano chords. There is a patient quality to these tracks that rewards deeper listening, with subtle percussive and acoustic layers carefully implemented over time, such as the whirring effect that rises slowly in this track, threatening to overcome it before fading suddenly. On the beautiful title track Anenon gives his sound a fuller workout, building a melancholy atmosphere with piano and strings before crafting a careful tension with IDM-style beats. The track begins to take off midway through with the introduction of a fluttering tenor sax, before the beats drop away to leave these ethereal melodic lines to soar over the soundscape in a moment of naked beauty, before they are airily combined once more with the tight percussive sequencing.
There’s an unparalleled organic quality to these tunes, mostly thanks to the amount of unprocessed live instrumentation which is so rare in electronic releases. Mostly the live instruments are left untouched but a few are drenched in reverb and decayed, creating an interesting dichotomy where organic instruments play out alongside their processed counterparts, not to mention that it always sounds stunning. Because of this even a brief interlude like Equilibrium can cause a stir in the listener, as piano and strings are looped on top of each other and processed differently before they crumble away, seemingly crushed under their own accumulated weight.
If I have one criticism of the record, it’s that occasionally the drums feel like they could use a little more punch, occasionally seeming reliant on quite simple patterns that, while effective, just can’t sound as lush and powerful as the sax and piano they are placed next to. Twenty Twenty rights this issue with a loping beat that scrapes from side to side, pacing over simmering ambient sounds where a melody seems always on the point of rising from the fog but never quite makes it. Rites shows Anenon at his most emotive, but it’s a curious emotion that he conjures. The twinkling piano notes that meld with a range of punchy beat patterns on this final track could be interpreted as any number of emotions that the listener wishes to attribute to it, while still remaining powerful despite its vagueness. Across Acquiescence Simon offers unique sounds with rare beauty and power, and the tracks on its 18-minute runtime are more than meaty enough to tide listeners over until the release of his debut LP, Inner Hue in May.