Donor Lens - Desire Path
May 6, 2022
The international lockdown and state of worry we find ourselves in is energy-sapping and relentless. But even in these unsure times, fantastic artist’s will find a way to collaborate. This is apparent on the new split EP produced by qualchan. and Whettman Chelmets. One from the Midwestern state of Missouri, and the other in the Pacific Northwest state of Oregon, the two artist’s reach out over the expanse of the United States in order to present listeners with a unique listening experience on Theme∞Variations.
Home is a Theme strides through confidently as solid bass drums fall in a pounding rhythm. Like whisps of mist or smoke, tenebrous melodies begin to surround the percussion. One, a sustained synth note that is struck with force by the kick drum, the other a timid, more resonant note that buzzes in and out of focus. Above that, icy notes splay out against a brisk soundscape. The sheer sound of the percussion is jarring and engaging, but the brilliance of the melody overtakes by the end.
A confined percussive loop plays out as an arpeggiating bassline moves swiftly between octaves. The movement it employs keeps the track on an uneven surface. The melodies are airy, but the floor keeps dropping out from underneath. The melodic narrative has a feeling of retro synth music about it. That semi-euphoric emotion from complimenting chords creating feelings of loss and sadness. These two first tracks are sizeably different than anything we are used to from Whettman Chelmets. The process of composing variations of a melody originally sent by qualchan. seems to have allowed the artist to really reach for sounds and moods that we rarely see on his own releases.
Home is Stabbing brings us part-way into the sort of sound we are used to from the artist. A smouldering, desolate landscape appears as strange liquids seem to drip from a high ceiling down onto the strange, misty ground. Some processes in the space seem to happen in reverse, until gradually another equally uncanny movement comes in. A screeching sound like some sort of unrelenting mechanical piston accompanies a solid monophonic synth sound as it plays through a sporadic sequence of notes. The bassline that drives the second part of the track is fairly simplistic, allowing for everything layered on top to be odd and more freeform-feeling.
More strange vistas appear as Home Swallows You begins, a creepy metallic sound emerging from the silence. As it plays through a sequence of notes, we can hear a cacophony of debris falling from it as it begins a slow glide over our heads. The metal shavings fall past us, flickering with sparks of light. That fascination with industrious sounds is presented starkly as the artist so often does. The focal point is this dissonant, almost tuneless happening that Whettman forces the listener to bear witness to.
Piano notes disintegrate into echoing mist upon impact as Home is a Fugue State begins. An honest and heart-wrenching melody plays out, the initial notes beginning to swim in a soup of the resulting reverb. Twanging notes emerge, stumbling around in a more sporadic tune, sounding almost trivial alongside the piano. Slowly an atmosphere of icy resonance builds from the background, the notes begin to spiral into atonal expression. Whettman’s fourth variation conveys the dual meanings of fugue, as the two voices interweave at points, and there is a general sense of confusion throughout.
The timely-named Home is a Virus begins with grinding, heavy noise, like friction between two forceful machines. Out of this greyish din, a kick drum sets a slow and steady rhythm, bringing with it dissonant jabs of piano. The melodic elements seem to retreat very suddenly after their introduction, shying away from the industrious environment. An unspeakable anxiety emulates from the track, again a feeling of confusion is apparent, mixed with feelings dread and worry illustrated by the high-pitched clashing of muffled keys.
Sporadic bleeps and bloops pattern a largely eerie shroud of sound. A great plume of smoke with light-up buttons and dials illuminating themselves in the amorphous form. The bassy noise hits every so often with a commanding rumble, shaking the ground beneath the listener. Home is a Neverending Wave emits the sensation that we are witness to some great celestial movement, some great cosmic dance that has happened for centuries. The feeble beeping representing humanity’s struggle to understand the world’s elusive nature.
qualchan. makes a formal entrance on box., all of those wonderful characteristics of the artist present. The reassuring, muted guitar notes, the haze of lower-middle sound that pushes warmly against the instrumentation, that sublime melodic sentiment. All of it acts as the perfect foil to Whettman Chelmets‘ brilliantly paranoiac musicianship.
The more scatterbrained asleep. takes over. It feels as though we are in that crossover moment, moving from our comfortable bed to a dream of some odd bar scene where a lounge/jazz band smoulders in the corner. A sense of unease pervades as formless pads seep into the background. The artist perfectly mixes emotional melodies with an unfeeling jazzy sensibility.
pistons. drifts in front of us. A pacy percussion complimented by resonant synths. That classic qualchan. loop providing a reassurance that lasts so long after the track has finished. The artist layers everything in such a nuanced manner that oftentimes the listener is enticed into pulling the needle back multiple times, delving into a different aspect each time.
Fringed with cloudy haze, soft strings and vocal samples float past the listener. The heavy bass encompassed in the short skeeter. draws one in to nodding their head almost instantly.
nite moves. brings that serene 80s nostalgia to the fore. A dramatic synth lead peels off of a heavy-set bass and drum partnership every few bars, creating this sense of spectacle. As is often the case with qualchan.‘s music, the percussive loop provides a steady and somewhat comforting tinge to the otherwise emotionally vibrant melodic narrative.
A foreboding piano riff plays as large, slushy noise moves slowly around the exterior. land of jurassic. is the first qualchan. song on the split album to feature explicit vocals. A pained voice sings out two notes that are swept up in the tumult of sound. This voice becomes the focal point of the track, sometimes the start of the notes is clear for us to hear, at other points it appears slowly, its initial beginning lost to the reverberating sounds.
set up. picks up the tempo a little bit as the artist hits with a trip-hoppy beat. Bubbling arpeggiations trickle over the smooth face of dulcet keys. Tinges of 90s lounge-esque music push through the thick gauze as qualchan. delights in a rainy, electronic atmosphere.
An explicit bass rhythm strives to cut through the thick echoing environment, accented by a trilling, pixellated synth. in the cut. plays through in just under a minute, the listener introduced to a full eco-system of sound, disintegrating before they are able to touch it.
A partnership of tipsy guitar and bright piano gently stumbles out, pushed off course every now and again by the invisible hand of low-fidelity. It immediately grabs the listeners attention as the other aspects of the instrumentation stay hunkered down very much stable in their pitch and sound. Almost as if the higher frequency elements are piped in from a less dependable source, walking adrift at certain points in the ironically named state.
clip. begins like an Usher intro playing out into a misty, otherworldly landscape. The percussion carrying tremendous weight and heat, as if some R&B star could begin to croon over it with heartfelt breakup lyrics and impressive fluctuations in tone and pitch. qualchan. keeps things subtle though, pained guitar notes appearing every now and again. The track has this lacy and delicate feel to it, a steady beat with so many different echoes and reverberations smothering it.
roses. hits almost straight away with positive tranquility, glissando piano notes blooming amidst tendrils of beautiful, high-pitched euphoria reaching out. Again, the beat is uptempo and swift in its movement, but qualchan. lets these wonderfully fragile notes sing out unhindered.
stupendous. brings up the rear of the Theme∞Variations with thick, ghostly instrumentation. Echoed guitars carry along on the great wave of pulsing sound created. Once again, the artist traps the listener between feelings of ease and angsty discomfort. Even as we reach the end, we feel fulfilled but still tinged with melancholy.
The two artists achieve a symbiosis on the project. Whettman Chelmets works incredibly hard to twist and contort qualchan.‘s source material into a number of different guises. And the second half finds the latter delivering that almost legendary combination of dreaminess and brevity. It is certainly not a partnership that one could guess would happen, but the two artists find a common ground in brilliantly crafted music.