Painted Girl - Familiar Trees of the North West
Familiar Trees of the North West
May 22, 2022
Music has a tremendous ability to transport us to another place. Artists carefully construct imaginary places through the use of various tools and methods, engineering a space in which objects and sound can work in anon-traditional way. There is a sizable amount of electronic music that draws on this power frequently, artists use the malleable nature of synthesised noise or manipulated samples in order to explore a soundscape. We hear this power pushed to its extremes in music that holds a transcendental power, offering a meditative or even spiritually awakening experience. It invites the listener to venture out of their comfort zone, greeting them with emotionally resonant melodies and seemingly endless landscapes. The artist desert sand feels warm at night is one of the most impressive artists of the last few years to skillfully wield these sorts of powers. Having made music under the artistic pseudonym since 2018, there are more than 25 projects for listeners to enjoy and each one promises a listening experience like no other.
The artist produces music that more often than not falls under the genre heading of slushwave. One of the many offshoots of vaporwave, the movement is characterised by sweeping and often sampled instrumentation lacquered, in phasers and delay. This often leads to the music having a dreamlike quality, as instrumentation and sound feels distant, like it is playing out from somewhere far away in an echoed landscape.
Music is often created in a way that is easy to compartmentalise.To use an obvious contrast, one track of an album may be explicitly upbeat and the next may be sorrowful. The artist guides the listener through different moods and situations as loosely or as strictly as they please. In ambient music, the experience is a lot more fluid, with elements meshing together, often with no explicit end point. Slushwave pulls aspects of standard musical textures and layering, blending and smoothing them into a more ambient experience. Features like percussion and vocals are much more fluid and ethereal, creating an overwhelming experience for the listener. It often evokes feelings of melancholy, a strange feeling of detached nostalgia that leaves you longing for lives you have seen in movies or journeys you have dreamt of.
Fittingly, while creating the majority of the discography, desert sand feels warm at night was on a journey of their own. Though the artist’s style has always been one of somnambulist calm, it took them a few releases to perfect their ideal sound.
The album sparkling water is bright and airy, the melodious nature of the music having little trouble finding its way toward the listener.Though there is this gauze of obscuring fog, the album goes down much like its title. It is fresh and its sound is fairly simple. 囚人(Prisoner) presents a deeper listening experience. More longing instrumentation crashes against heavier delays and echoes. This provides the music with a more distant and mythical aura. バビロンの空中庭園 上(The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Part 1), on the other hand is a tremendously tranquil release. Devoid of percussion, desert sand evidently focused on engineering a feeling of calm and repose on this album. Resonant pads submerge each track in warmth, with bells and pipes peeking their heads out playing smooth melodies. These three releases represent a journey towards an ideal sound, but also signal the honing of certain skills and techniques. No release comes across as incomplete or flawed. There are sounds and styles displayed that listeners will hear dotted about on later releases, delivered in a more focused and refined style.
天に召される(Ascend to Heaven) is where the artist believes they finally honed the ‘desert sand’ style that has become a favourite with listeners. Sitting sonically in the middle of the three releases previously mentioned, the album achieves this religious euphoria that blurs and focuses in different moments. Though there are vocals and percussion at points, desert sand feels warm at night does this incredible job of shading these parts together, precision when blending layers being an integral skill when creating slushwave. To make things even more challenging, desert sand works backwards, thinking up an idea and sometimes even a tracklist before starting to sculpt the project in any sonically. Though this may be a fairly unconventional way of doing things, it does allow for the concept to be the driving force behind the creative journey.
‘What haven’t I done yet?’ is the main challenge the artist sets when making new music. A daring objective, but one that results in an incredible back catalogue and consistently popular releases. The breadth of the artist’s scope is reflected in the varied range of different artworks that accompanies their discography. There are wide open spaces next to cramped cityscapes, still life images aside abstract colour collages. One of the starkest differences is the cyberpunk-styled Tomorrow, 2096 next to the sublime and bleak slush of 濃霧 (Dense Fog). It seems that, though the sonic style of slushwave - and desert sand more specifically - is fairly regimented, it has allowed for passage through many different premises and places.
Listening to the music of desert sand feels warm at night can be a very personal experience. The artist has had a great deal of people express to them how sad and melancholy their listening experience has been. There is no doubt that much of the music has solemn characteristics, but it is also music of repose and reflection. The album ユートピアへの旅 (Journey to Utopia) is a perfect example of the rejuvenating power desert sand’s music can have. At points, the listener is submerged by wave after wave of cathartic euphoria.Though there are unmistakable tinges of angst, the world of the album is one of distinct beauty and hopefulness.
The concepts do not present themselves clearly to the listener. Whatever scene or situation that existed in the head of the artist has been smeared and smudged by effects and dreamy wisps of sound. In this way, desert sand likens it to handing someone an empty book. The music invites participation and a certain level of commitment, and honours the listener’s patience with a portal allowing a dive to unfathomable depths, a walk towards an endless horizon, or an ascent towards an unbroken aether.
This beautiful sub-genre - that desert sand has become a pioneer of - offers a lot, but it can feel tied down by its methodology at points. The majority of slushwave producers will work entirely from samples.They may refine or augment samples, but every aspect they employ is to promote the sounds or feeling enshrined in the original song they have used. Though this helps give the music an interesting sense of detachment and a palimpsestic sound, it can mean that room for improvisation and composition is narrow.
To listen to 水に流す (Forgive and Forget), one may think it is simply another desert sand release. Incredible music that blooms with an unwavering patience into peaceful ambient beauty. The first track, over 25 minutes long, glimmers with the fragile brilliance of a lush ecological paradise. There is something about the gradual growth and progression of the track that feels as if it were composed specifically, and not repurposed from samples as it usually would be. This is due to the EP being the artist’s first foray into sample-free slushwave. The instrumentation and even the vocals are all created by the artist, painstakingly crafted as original compositions. They are then fed through the same slushwave-y processes as the samples on other releases.
Simply put, this sample-free approach allows desert sand feels warm at night to wield complete control over the sample being used.Though the act of blending and meshing layers is still integral, more can be affected, tweaked and amended in the early stages. Having released their fifth sample-free slushwave album in late February, it seems that first experiment provided the artist with a new and more free-form pathway into those wide open and spiritually satisfying expanses.
Genre labels can help listeners to find a certain type of music and aid aspirational artists in finding a sound. However, in many ways they can do a disservice to artists by boxing them in when they should perhaps be praised more widely and included in conversations outside of a specific community or genre. This is certainly true for desert sand feels warm at night.The artist is one of the best slushwave producers there has been. But more than this, they are an incredible artist outright. Their perception of melody, infallible patience when letting atmospheres emerge, and their care and precision in crafting other worlds. desert sand feels warm at night crafts sublime sonic experiences, using found and composed sound to sculpt an entry point to impossible depths, incredible heights and endless vistas.
The print version of this article is available in listencorp #001.