Donor Lens - Desire Path
May 6, 2022
A muffled field recording begins the opening track of shiwashiwa’s I’m Here. Wind buffets against the microphone, creating an atmosphere of closeness. We wait with whoever holds the mic, hearing the distant hum of motor traffic, the steady sound of general human activity. A timid whistling melody is joined by a boisterous thudding bassline. Shiwashiwa builds her little world bar by bar, the instrumentation formulaic and welcoming. Her vocals burst in with the shackles studio processing nowhere to be found, making for a more conversational and personable feel to the vocals, similar to the windy field recording at the beginning. The melody of her words fall into a pleasurable pop sensibility, bobbing and weaving playfully. Towards the second half she fires her words out in a chatty, rhythmic splurge, pulling herself back into this daydream-like melody. This twee aesthetic is by no means incidental, as the liner notes explain she holds down a day job as a staff member at a health facility, doodling pictures and creating tunes and lyrics whilst the working day rolls on.
Blue instantly has a more danceable feeling to it. Thick synth chords roll from one ear to the other, swelling in a catchy rhythm. A fizzling resonant finds its way through the synth-y sludge every now and again, switching up the texture in a delightfully high-spirited manner. Again shiwashiwa sways happily from a low-volume muttering flow to a heartening melody line in the song’s chorus. Though the structure is a little tighter in this excursion, there is this nucleus of joy in the artist’s songwriting and production that is hard not to get swept up in.
The first third of Bottom is spent wading through thick noise as another muffled field recording envelopes us. Again, the biting wind plays a significant role, the sky booming as a plane flies by. Upon fading out, shiwashiwa conjures the song’s main melody straight from her mouth. A ragtag group of melodic instruments stumbling after her breathy whistling. An emotive vocal line is accented by bright glockenspiels and sudden clicking percussion. The artist’s voice rises and falls from note to note, the strange collection of instruments bolstering her delivery. If Blue was a day where the sun glimmered and shone, this song was a day spent watching the rain trickle down the window.
Holes finds its way toward us with a plodding, solid bassline. The vocals slip in, their high pitched nature contrasting the deep sound of the bass. The percussion builds as the voice falls away, everything has an air of simplicity, served in a minimalistic style. A tom drum begins to rumble as the track builds momentum, other almost comedic instruments find their way in. The track (like many of the others) appears like a daydream. shiwashiwa beams them into our subconscious with subtle field recordings of nothing in particular. And before we know it, the deep trumpet sound and lazy xylophone notes are soundtracking us gazing out of the window as the world moves around us. Safe and sound in a quaint, odd little bubble.
Days hits heavier than the tracks that have come before it. A slightly distorted piano line and rattling percussion blasting us into a new location. That same carefree energy emits through the melody and shiwashiwa’s vocal delivery. But with the percussion packing more of a punch, her musings feel more confident and bold. The soft, floating notes juxtapose the heavy percussion so effortlessly, creating one of the most effective dynamics on the album.
An explorative arpeggiation travels out into silence on Airport. As it slithers further onward, more of the song’s narrative is revealed to us. A hopeful and progressive melody finds its way through the sequenced sounds. To the listener’s surprise, shiwashiwa isn’t alone on this track. Her diaphanous voice is joined by another, lower in pitch but sharing a similar style of delivery. A patient bassline sets up a rhythmic precedent for the track. The voices trade lines, devoid of any burning passion, they express themselves merely through the slightly solemn melody that they share. This sadness is supported by the timid keys that hide momentarily behind the rest of the instruments, its chords decaying into the nether regions of the track.
The Ghost of City Life begins with a carefree, simplistic piano riff alongside rolling percussion. The sound combined with the title conjures images of some unconcerned animated character plotting a course down a bustling city street. Smiling as they go, the tinge of feeling in the melody represents the general happenings of life that one finds in any city. The animated mascot that we follow continues to skip, unnoticed by everything around them.
New Hometown pits highbrow harp sounds against a twanging flute that sounds like something you’d find in a Dr Dre instrumental. shiwashiwa begins to unravel her lyrics in her poetic talking style, as she does the atmosphere around her grows. Deep trumpet impacts give rise to rich reversing pads, she begins to sing, harmonising in an emotive lament. A low-slung kick drum begins to rumble underneath the track. shiwashiwa builds the momentum even more as she enters her second verse, the kick pounding, adding to this growing tension building. All of these rises in low frequency are counterpointed brilliantly by the incessant twang of the flute sound and bright xylophone noises. New Hometown supplies one of the most tense tracks on the album, as the production seems intent on creating suspense and a feeling of uncertainty.
Why starts with the stomping out of a rhythm, followed by tonal clicking. The artist slides in with a breathy voice, inviting another low almost inaudible bass drum to begin to throb. shiwashiwa takes a nod from the clear rhythm, her short bursts of words often stopping dead on the beat. That feeling of intimacy still pervades everything, the chorus melody feels like it is being whispered into our ear as we lay, watching the artist pull this dynamic selection of instruments together.
Beside You starts with a wobbly intake of breath, shiwashiwa leading the way for the music with a gentle melody. Dulcet keys fill out the cosy soundscape, lightly played reversing synth notes fringing the soft chord progressions with gold-leaf. There is something in the closeness of the voice and the tender nature of its delivery that conjures feelings of love and affection while listening. The artist accenting this perfectly with her fantastically relaxed and buoyant singing style.
We end with Early Summer, the lyrics paying tribute to the gentle breeze as she sets out a lolling piano chord sequence. Funky chiming notes waver in the blissful sunlight, we sit watching the trees sway and relax in the summer sun. shiwashiwa brings this truly unique album to a close utilising beautifully sung melodies. The tune is melancholy in the same way a wonderful summer day is. The melodic narrative set out is one of emotion and sadness, but the kind you feel when lying in the glow of the sun. A numb, joyful pain felt at the wonderful and invigorating aspects of life.
In I’m Here, shiwashiwa welcomes us in with a stripped back and personable style. She manages to sport a number of different emotions and express a multitude of feelings to the listener. One may think that the nature of her creative process would restrict the potential of the album, but nothing could be further from the truth. She successfully creates this homely atmosphere through her vocals and her production. There is this wonderful sadness running through the 11 tracks that is indebted to the simplicity of the style and process, and you find yourself huddling up to her performance, as within it lies this nucleus of warmth and companionship.