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Liam Murphy

December 10, 2020

Tracks in this feature

Tracks in this release

Blossoming euphoric sounds guide us through the streets of Hong Kong and Shanghai

We can so often overlook the beauty hidden within a location. Even when you do get the chance to, you may not be able wrench that experience away from feelings of worry of where you have to go next or what train you have to get on. The beauty of music is it can recreate places in a slow, detailed manner. Music can’t show you the real thing, but it can certainly provide you with an artistic impression of the place. Back in September 沙漠鱿鱼 (or Desert Squid, the duo comprised of Uncle Squidz and desert sand feels warm at night) provided listeners with an impression of Shanghai and Hong Kong on a project brought about by Hiraeth Records.

The sounds of a busy street fade in. Almost immediately, the harshness of the metropolitan area we are introduced to is cushioned by a glissando piano scheme. Floating and flowing almost as a perspex gauze atop the cityscape, the light notes are joined by lower ones. A beautiful serenity settles. The piano melody lies somewhere between tragic heartache and a general lounge-y city theme. It is performed with so much ache and weightiness imbued into it, the keys wallowing for a long while after their initial impact. Then at the end, a brilliant light springs forth. Glacial notes step out of an echoing expanse, joined by a reassuring voice that is swallowed up in the bright haze. The album’s beginning is very focused on melody, as if the camera is slowly falling downwards onto street level.

Once again, we find ourselves wading through thick euphoria as we move onto 南京西路 (Nanjing West Road). It is as if we were struck by an almost blinding light from a car or eye-catching sign and scarpered hurriedly away, back into the secluded darkness. Pads heat up the soundscape, muffled and pushing against the ear with a fizzling distortion. Like great boats moving slowly through icy regions, majestic chords glide past the listener with a metallic resonance. The city sounds are pushed away, becoming the backdrop to some great, almost geological happening. These chords continue to grow in stature, synths peel off of the side of these humongous movements, resonant notes and juddering square waves careering off the sides of this great mass of slowly moving sound. The city’s soul is revealing itself to us. Past the humdrum of urban existence, the pure light of life seems to shine through. A glow emanates from all around, from the street under us to the towering blocks that reach above.

A more calming vein of sound brings about our entrance into the 徐家汇 (Xujiahui). The glow now has a definitive source. It is the shining of the signs a distance above us, as the top of our heads are bathed in a sickly shifting light. At the midway point, the lights disappear and brisk euphoria is washed away as Desert Squid guides us gently into the innards of the sprawling mall. Slow, echoed beats bounce off of porcelain walls and empty shops. A melody washes itself in the sibilance of the percussion, staying low and hidden for a little while. It snakes up out of the murk, blessing itself with the perfect light of the mall space’s corridors and walkways. We move slowly, as if encased in a dreamlike sludge.

We find ourselves in the welcoming arms of the 龙之梦购物中心 (Dragon Dream Shopping Centre). Great spurts of dazzling euphoria burst from all around us, an amorphous membrane of sound shifts and flows ahead, guiding our step. It sounds like the disorientating sensation of big city shopping just a few hours earlier than the busy period. The shops are open in all of their splendour, but its much too early for most people. So all of this grandeur and pomp is left without the context of financial value or popularity. Without these signifiers, the great sprawling shopfronts become an almost religious experience. Beams of light stand beside each doorway, almost invisible glass panels shield us from walking off the edge and falling to the floor miles below us. The austere beauty that Desert Squid frame it in is moving. Onward this winding sound continues to wade a path through the foyers and shopfronts. The overwhelming sense of choice and luxury washes over us each time the waves of sound break. It is truly magnificent to listen to. The journey we’ve been on is clearly signposted by song names working off areas in China’s busy municipality, yet it is dreamlike, as if we step on a slowly moving conveyer belt a few feet in the air. We end with a warm song dragged down into lower, more dulcet tones.

A change of scenery. With a sparkle of wavering sound, a new place comes flying toward us through the darkness. Blurry at first, our eyes slowly begin to focus once our balance is restored. We land on the narrow walkway of 廟街 (Temple Street) in Hong Kong. Gentle percussion and meaningful chords illustrate the busy street before us. The synth arpeggiation causing us to crane our heads upwards toward the neon brilliance and up further into the sky, crowded out by buildings and business. Purple and pink glow shifts all around us, lighting the surroundings in a constantly fluid way. Desert Squid action this journey of almost 762 miles so naturally, allowing time for the trip before immersing us once again in a place similar in certain ways and wildly different in others.

More opportunities to quench our materialistic thirst as we find our way to 花園街 (Fa Yuen Street). Notice in the Japanese tracks so far, that the hustle and bustle of the cityscape is crowded out by the richness of the sounds on display. The infrequent movements and shifting in the background seem to illustrate a busy street, but these sounds are almost inaudible over the lush chord progression set out. It’s almost like our journey around Hong Kong is more of an introverted one, shut off from out surroundings. Chimes and bells follow a euphoric melody, and an almost coagulating sound plays out an unending shift as different sources of light illuminate our pathway through the crowds.

We step into the warmth and elegance of 太古廣場 (Pacific Place). Organic trilling piano soundtracks our steps in and up a gracefully designed staircase. There is movement inside, the general noise of people moving around and life continuing. However, the piano slowly falls into warbling synth and acts as our inner monologue as we play, walking carefree into the bowels of the shopping centre. Luscious creams and beiges adorn the walls and floors as Desert Squid calms us with easygoing chord progressions and cushioned synth work. Again, just like in the Dragon Dream Shopping Centre, that sense of luxury is communicated expertly. There is quaintness to the melody, combining the material goods that adorn each shop with a sort of spiritual completeness. A resonant synth peels off in a steady arpeggiated pattern, shimmering like chandelier lights. The track is a genuine waltz, the artists dressing the experience with the organic beauty of piano and the malleable otherworldliness of synth.

回家 (Come Back Home) signals our journeys end. A deep voice’s cadence trips over itself in a washy reverberation. This is followed by an ethereal pad sequence that ameliorates before us like steps up towards the sky. Another voice slowly evaporates into silence, and the last remnants of another euphoric pad sequence are snuffed out gently.

The duo Desert Squid offer up a slow and elegant journey through two of the most recognisable locations in Asia. Painstakingly meshing captured audio with soft, billowing melodies and sounds, they transport us through streets and shopping centres on some sort of diaphanous conveyer. The journey is immersive, and carefully balances a realistic impression of the two places with an inescapably powerful feeling of euphoria.–3