This article previously appeared on Crossfader
THEMES FOR DYING EARTH / THEMES FOR A NEW EARTH
Genre: Chillwave, Ambient Pop
Favorite Tracks: “An Alpine Forest,” “Echoes,” “On the Edge of a New Age,” “Cycle,” “Dream City,” “Becoming,” “Anew”
British Columbia-based Bandcamp artist Jamison Isaak, aka Teen Daze, is known for his ambient and synth-driven dance tunes, with an emphasis on heavily Auto-Tuned vocals. With a deluge of enjoyable projects in the past, he’s now released his most ambitious project yet: the sister releases THEMES FOR DYING EARTH and THEMES FOR A NEW EARTH. The first project, DYING EARTH, plays to his usual stylistic choices and strengths, while NEW EARTH is largely instrumental and features a somber, relaxed tone. Even though they still carry the same elements that helped establish Teen Daze, there are enough changes to help situate him as a standout within electronica.
As for the most recent release, NEW EARTH, there are a collection of earworm tracks that make a strong first impression, such as the fantastic “An Alpine Forest,” in which Teen Daze forgoes any use of vocal melodies and delivers a brooding yet extremely emotive ambient track. The ever-present angelic drone which plays throughout, in conjunction with the distant and airy synths, create a definitively idiosyncratic soundscape. It feels instantly reminiscent of cuts off of Fennesz’s 2006 masterpiece, ENDLESS SUMMER, except with a greater sense of reservation, which plays well to the album’s overall theme of rebirth.
A punchier cut from NEW EARTH, “On the Edge of a New Age,” is brought in by a rising instrumental sample that blossoms into a bass, drum, and keyboard-laden chillwave track. The drum work in the middle of the track is striking and aggressive, lending itself greatly to the meandering keyboard riffs. This more energetic style captures the same serene beauty found in earlier examples of the genre, such as Tycho’s debut PAST IS PROLOGUE, an accomplishment which shouldn’t be overlooked. Continuing on the same bent comes the next track, “Kilika,” a supremely groovy cut with a stripped-down drum section, a larger emphasis placed upon the atmospheric guitar work. It serves as a great transition into the tail end of the record with its far more ambient sound.
For those looking for a hit similar to the one “Kilika” offers, the first portion of this two part project, THEMES FOR DYING EARTH, delivers in spades. On “Cycle,” the opening track, Teen Daze plays to his strengths with a fairly standard cut featuring reverb-soaked vocals. Lyrically, there isn’t a whole lot of substance coming from the themes presented (“Yet I wake / With a sense of mourning / I leave / To Enter / The Day”), but the track is redeemed by its finale of rapid synth work, beat patterns, and guitar loops, which culminate in a satisfying finish. It immediately transitions into the droning interlude track, “Dream City,” with a wobbly synth lick that creates a palpable sense of atmosphere, setting the stage for what’s to come. The transition between the energetic aggression on “Cycle” to the minimalism of “Dream City” is quite sudden, but the repetitive nature of the latter and its runtime help eventually ease the listener in. However, I do wish that the track had a slow descent into a fade out rather than its sudden drop-off, which in its current form somewhat defeats the purpose of its seemingly original intent.
On the tail end of DYING EARTH there are a handful of infectious synthpop cuts, most notably the track “Rising.” Teen Daze is brilliant at the slow builds, taking his sweet time in allowing the listener to become acclimated to an element or instrument before introducing a new component. The restrained vocal line, augmented with the occasional bout of Auto-Tuning, all set over the kinetic instrumental seems to pay homage to recent synthpop projects such as Porches’ POOL. The ending acoustic guitar work, despite its brevity, works as a fantastic tonal segue into the immaculate flow of “Anew,” which centers on beautifully restrained keyboard work—complemented by something that almost sounds like a zither, it successfully creates an oddly nostalgic and organic layer on an otherwise synthetic track.
I had listened to a small collection of Teen Daze’s previous EPs and albums upon discovering his work a few years back, but none have swept me up like these two projects have. Even though both THEMES FOR DYING EARTH and THEMES FOR A NEW EARTH follow the core musical themes that established Teen Daze within the chillwave niche, there is a refreshing evolution to his overall sound. DYING EARTH serves as a retro-fitted and bittersweet love letter to synthpop, with perfectly constructed backing tracks adorned with moody vocal work, while NEW EARTH is a standout piece in its own right, Teen Daze pushing the boundaries of his comfort zone and creating an airy tracklist of experimental instrumentals. He has truly come into his own and shown a willingness to break away from the enjoyable but conventional synthpop he could have easily settled into permanently.