Mono_Poly Golden Skies Brainfeeder

Some of the most colorful words in the English language can often have very modest etymological origins. “Video” (literally “I see” in Latin) is straightforward enough but, depending on who you ask, “monopoly” could either refer to the act of selling something or signify the sonic range of a studio musician’s inventory of vintage keyboards. As implied by his chosen name, Charles Dickerson‘s Mono/Poly project indeed channels the aesthetic qualities of early mono- and polyphonic analog synthesizers: complex machines that, while limited due the primitive circuitry borne of their respective era, were at once bravely new and strange to audiences accustomed to reeds, bows, mallets; brass, wood, and ivory.

On his debut for Brainfeeder records, Dickerson harnesses the inherent constraints of these magnificent instruments and does something akin to modernist minimalism in mid-century architecture: refracting larger universal concepts — beauty, emotion — through careful communion with simple materials, defying the burden of past masters and changing the principles of composition in anticipation of cultural preferences to come. The resulting LP, Golden Skies, is stately, recherché reverence to pure electrical expression and a worthy entry to the canon of music by composers convinced of the humanity to be found in technology.

A product of the fertile, ferociously inventive Los Angeles beat scene, Dickerson still conforms to the structural framework he and other young producers largely built: technicolor psychedelia dosed with heaps of bass and roving, unpredictable grooves. But by pulling from a unique palette of sounds and demonstrating somewhat mature songwriting proclivities, Dickerson is able to easily differentiate his style from his peers. Whereas his contemporaries are sometimes apt to explore a more-is-more approach to beat-making, adding two fingers of agave and a splash of curaçao to their heady tropical cocktails, Dickerson’s process operates more like an aural distillery, filtering the flaws from imperfect memories (perhaps the gleaming optimism of Eighties New Wave) into a single potent quantity. Because he achieves such intoxicating sonic sensations without the liberal use of signal processing effects or samples speaks to this producer’s considerable talents. By utilizing sparer arrangements, Dickerson potentially opens himself up to risky exposure, but in showing his hand he proves he’s not bluffing.

Opener “Winds of Change” is a clear artist’s statement and signals Dickerson’s arrival in becoming a serious musical commodity. Grand melodic gestures firmly assert his mastery of tone and setting but despite the dominant dynamic at work here, the song’s intricate underpinnings draw the listener closer, satisfying our need for personal engagement.

Golden Gate” is a gorgeous, brief passage of aching sentimentality mixed with emboldened hopefulness; a moment of clear reflection on a solo cross-country road trip — leaving home for something unknown and new. A simple modulating baritone phrase set against a cold caricature of violins quivering in tight, eerie vibrato establishes “Night Garden” as a ballad belonging to a bygone era, hiding ardor and desire behind a veil of upright stoicism. Moving through its polite jazz changes, the final cut, “Gamma,” leisurely boogies at a halftime tempo, lost in its own guileless confidence on a sunny autumn afternoon. The track features virtuoso Thundercat on electric bass and his style — physical and unapologetically melodic — is so identifiable and his guest spots so frequent on Brainfeeder releases that it can seem at times that no matter whose name is on the sleeve — Flying Lotus, Taylor McFerrin, etc. -– the track in question merely becomes a vehicle for his dazzling chops. On one hand, his playing lends an element of consistency to their growing catalog of excellent releases but it can also appear somewhat facile in relying too heavily on the obvious talents of a single contributor.

For fans of Dickerson’s earlier material — the noisy little number on the Planet Mu‘sWild Angels comp or the darker Manifestations EP — Golden Skies may take some getting used to, but what it may lack in punky exuberance it certainly makes up for in consummate musicality and for a member of scene that prides itself on progress, I think that we can commend him on his journey.

Previously debuted tracks “Ra Rise” and “Empyrean” featuring Mendee Ichikawa can be streamed here.  You can pre-order Mono/Poly’s Golden Skies before its August 26 release now on iTunes.


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