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Akasha System - Echo Earth Music Album Reviews

Gentle but full of motion, the Portland, Oregon producer’s seemingly uncomplicated music brings the language of left-field ’90s dance to the great outdoors.

House music is often thought to belong indoors: in nightclubs, warehouses, dingy basements where sweat drips from the walls. But in Akasha System’s music, the sounds of classic house are oriented outward. The Portland, Oregon producer, aka Hunter P. Thompson, favors titles like “Hawk Country” and “Rain Theme,” and he cites back-country hikes and mossy tree trunks as inspiration for his airy melodies and sturdy basslines.


The Pacific Northwest frequently seems to inspire this tendency to infuse electronic textures with a sense of place. Vancouver ambient musician Loscil routinely invokes the local geography in both his titles and his moody, rain-slicked tones; Grouper’s work is inextricable from the fogbanks of the Oregon coast; Portland modular synthesist Ann Annie films her devices in front of picturesque outdoor backdrops. It’s less common to find these kinds of inspirations in dance music of the sort that Thompson makes, in which the steady beat is inextricable from decades of association with the act of dancing—triggering, in effect, a kind of muscle memory.

But Echo Earth, much like previous Akasha System albums Vague Response and Temple Images, isn’t really club music, at least not exclusively. One of Thompson’s chief models is Chicago house pioneer Larry Heard, who drew up the blueprint for canonical deep house but also understood that four-to-the-floor pulses weren’t limited to the dancefloor. That was particularly true on albums like 1996’s Alien or 1994’s Sceneries Not Songs, Volume 1, in which placid tracks like “Dolphin Dream” and “Tahiti Dusk” were keyed to new-age frequencies. Echo Earth utilizes a similar palette of softly rounded synths and unadorned drum machines, to similarly wistful ends.

Another contemporaneous touchstone is Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92, in which bold drums and riffs dissolved into pure atmosphere. Akasha System has a similar way of enveloping muscular drum programming in buoyant, jewel-toned chords and synthetic choirs. The Portland musician clearly has an affinity for that era’s left-field dance music: In the opalescent synth tones and flickering micro-rhythms triggered by dub delay, there are also echoes of Sun Electric’s 1996 album Present, which, like Aphex Twin’s record, abandoned rave’s muddy fields for airier, more spacious climes.

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But if revivalism can be boring, Echo Earth is decidedly not. For all its gentleness, it’s full of motion: His synthesizers are forever in flux, constantly changing timbre and tone color, and his drums are particularly inspired. His kick drums never simply follow the expected path; they jog and leap, dodging the downbeat like a trail runner jumping fallen logs, and his claps and hi-hats are similarly nimble as they pan across the stereo field or ricochet down the delay chain. What appears on the surface to be a simple, unfussy sound—and his tendency to reuse the same palette from track to track lends to that impression—turns out to be remarkably nuanced. Contrast is the secret ingredient: A bright arpeggio trips up the scale, offsetting sustained chords that barely waver; a cowbell clatters across a field of hush, punctuating the stillness like a woodpecker’s insistent staccato. Crisp, cutting textures balance out the soft, wispy tones, keeping them from becoming too diffuse, and vice versa. The closer you peer, the more Akasha System’s seemingly uncomplicated music turns out to be something like an interdependent system, a dynamic landscape of give and take.

It can be tricky, of course, when the artist sets the terms like this: Would you have detected the presence of old-growth forests and mountain streams in the music if Thompson hadn’t titled these tracks things like “Meadow Walk” and “Spirits of the Lake”? Maybe not, but it hardly matters. Like a walk in the woods, Echo Earth clears the head and sharpens the senses.


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About Udara Madusanka

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