YL Hooi - Untitled (Efficient Space, 2021)
Like a series of canvases that unravel and paint themselves before our very eyes, the music found within this wonderful soundscape never fails to beguile with its hazy flows, whimsical melodic meanderings and deeply intriguing narratives.
To feel involved within a song can manifest itself in many ways, be it the careful blending of sonics and melody, the expansive vividness of scale and tone, or the enriching display of vocal work paired with narrative, and when all of these factors combine you really do have something special on your hands. Electronic music in general has this kind of appeal in that more often than not the instrumentals are doing their utmost to tell us a story, with the placement and feel of keys and drums helping to infill a world that forms around our peripheries, stretching itself out in front of us to rise up to the ridges and horizon lines that sit far away in the distance. The traversal across these plains becomes guided by the manner of evolution that occurs within the different stages of a record, our movement and placement within these compositions very much dependant on the direction in which the track chooses to take us. Do we travel backwards, towards a space we might have passed over before; do we move onwards, excitedly engaging with an area of new possibilities; or do we stand still, turning left and right to capture all that energy in the here and now? All of these monumental leaps or pauses are captured so beautifully within certain records, mostly within release that hug the frequencies of the instruments to pair thought and imagery with the notes, the listener very much placed within the rising wavelengths as a kind of conduit to the happenings that occur. We become involved with the progression, it's many shifts and switches flowing through us, as if we are a missing piece of the sonic puzzle, providing a reflection to the music being presented, the two life forces morphing into one ever flowing presence. When the aim of the audial game is understanding how spatial awareness and tone can make all the difference when pulling together compositions, then the possibilities for conceptual overtones is pretty much endless, our hearts and minds drawn to the little densities and sparse notes that help to make up an utterly compelling audial narrative. Music is very much a language, its inner elements speaking to us either via actual lyrics that lay bare a comprehensive mood, or the words that start to formulate in our mind as the instrumentals start to unravel, with both features combining so very effectively to give over to us an experience like no other. Musical languages come in many shapes and forms, from the direct to the indirect, to the increasingly complex and the deliberately sparse, its a never ending pool of blends that always throw a surprise or two our way, and due to all the diversity you will always find music that speaks to you on some level. To be able to conjure up a number of flows in relation to the audial narrative on one record however is an even greater feat, as we become involved in the music in not just a one dimension kind of way but within multiple ways, its myriad of textures doing a number over us as we get presented with numerous options in which to tread. A universe starts to open up, one where crunchy bottom line feels mingle with intense rolling percussive features, delicate melodic sequences intertwine with evolving synergies that simmer and explode when the time feels right, notions of thought and mood combine effortlessly in a hazy meandering of quiet euphoric bliss. Its music for the mind and the soul, a frequency that occupies both the highs and the lows of the human experience, its converging nature continually lifting us to spaces within the track and outside of it that holds particular significance, the immersion level of the music simply washing over us as we ease into the softest of spaces, content to explore these bountiful soundscapes to their absolute limit.
Some music makers have mastered the craft of involving the audience in their sound, and there is no more deeply intriguing sound than the one found within YL Hooi's music, and her debut album 'Untitled', which was originally released in 2019 but has now been reissued via the Efficient Space imprint. Experimental music by its very nature occupies the inbetween spaces, the terrain vagues of sound where possibility remains undefined and thus can be moulded and formed into any shape the artist wishes to take it, a vacuum where concepts can be imprinted into without pre conceived notions and unleashed in the most spectacular and ground breaking of ways. When you dip into 'Untitled', you are immediately met with a tone that defies as much as it dazzles, a sound that spreads itself as wide as possible yet feels incredibly concise, its occupation of the foreground and the immediate left and right of the pan provide an incredible level of immersion to proceedings. The record uses the concept of the inbetween space to great effect, pulling elements from traditional genre tropes and pushing them right into this new environment, Hooi's voice acting as a conduit that weaves everything together, a sinuous feature that waivers in the flickering spring morning, the cold breeze replaced with the glorious feeling of a warm dawn. There's a deep level of thought and process that underpins proceedings, with each track bringing itself together over differing lengths that see elements slide into view at differing sets of pace, with the manner in which things come together helping to determine the frequency in which the music winds through our minds, touching upon all facets of the human condition as the feels keep on coming our way. It's touching in many ways, leaving us on the edge of our seats in the most soothing way possible, our eyes moving around the room in which to capture every single element that presents itself to us, as calming undertones swell within us as the music swerves through all manner of spaces in time. The album, recorded and produced alongside Tarquin Manek, is a piece of audial art if there ever was one, and to take a dive through its treasured states of mind is to ease through a story which feels all the more compelling as you move through its layered environments and enriching spaces, a transfixing display of audial sounds and tones that will have you feeling a warmth inside that only comes to the surface when the application feels just right. So, without further delay, lets dive right into this brilliantly conceived treasure trove of feeling and goodness.......
Up first comes 'Title', and this one begins with the fuzz and the repeating fast paced key sequence to get us going. As the volume and presence of these two lines increases, their frequencies start to become less solid and more textured, their presence doing much to fill up the room in which they inhabit with a feverish desire, and this is when Hooi's voice comes into the mix. Her repeating lines worm and weave through an ever densifying sub foundation, a guiding light within an expansive sea of textural sequences that ride the crest of a thousand waves, the tones washing at our toes as sweeping audial noises swoosh through the bedrock to provide so much sensory engagement. Its an opener that really sets the tone of things to come, really beautiful stuff. 'Straight Thru' arrives next, and this one begins in similar spaces. The notes swell rapidly from their original placements to fill out the space, but Hooi's voice does a brilliant job at filling up the space which the keys leave behind, her vocals filtered through a gentle effects spectrum to provide an enormous sense of scale. The elements feel like they are constantly moving around in the spectrum, shifting through the sands to provide an experience that feels much larger than what we see, the drums and keys bouncing off the distant city walls as Hooi delivers her words with conviction and substance. You really do feel entranced, our presence accommodated right in the centre of proceedings as all manner of objects pass us by, eager to showcase to us just how this track can move the mind to a very intriguing place indeed, a space somewhere in the middle between everything we know and understand. Glorious stuff. 'E Park' arrives next, which acts as a short interlude based upon a recording of walking at a regular pace, before an abrupt ending that sees some concerned breathing come into the mix. 'W/O Love' arrives next, and this track sees the first proper percussive structure come into the mix. The keys that arrive soon after lovingly lay themselves over the rhythm, moving between a high line and the repeating bass line, with Hooi's voice occupying the space between the two lines of melodic inquiry, and the momentum is captured beautifully. As with the previous cuts, you just know that the textures are going to keep flowing from this point onwards, and surely enough we see all manner of manipulation going on as the densities begin to multiply and grow, the layers expanding in all directions as Hooi's voice continues to grow in presence and scale, as the original key lines maintain their spatial depth, with our minds continuing to expand and grow as time passes us by. Beautiful stuff, really.
'Stranger' arrives next, which is a cover of the Love Joys' song of the same name, and this one begins with the looping switch between two chords. Their presence is consistent and full, a tone that wraps around the soul with its rich warmth and bountiful character, and the scene remains very much set for Hooi's vocals to slide into view. Her voice creates this sequence on top the solid base, the effects allowing for her voice to bounce off the caverns that grow all around us, as the fuzz starts to follow us everywhere we go within the depths of the track. A guitar appears around the 2 minute mark to replace the vocals for a brief period, but we slide back into Hooi's breathless brilliance soon enough, her voice like a transfixing scene that appears through a window which we are overly familiar with. The track climaxes as the guitar and additional keys help to create that satisfying pay off that leaves us with the warmest of feelings in our hearts. Gorgeous stuff. Up next comes 'When Yr Up There', and here we begin with the audio samples to get us going. The barking dog runs through the layers, with a key line emerging out of the mists which grows in intensity as time passes by, with additional melodic blemishes appearing throughout to help create that sense of serenity, of momentum and vibrancy. The guitar returns to craft another layer of texture on top, its feel razor sharp to the touch as further background synths cascade from within some dream like state, the track hanging in the air before our eyes as we reach out to touch it, its essence calling out to us from across the peripheries. 'Strobe Lite' arrives next, and this one starts off in some very full places indeed. The bass line and key line begin with their sequence, which is quickly joined by sporadic guitar movements and before long Hooi's voice moves back into the equation, its application spreading itself out across the entirety of the track, moving, feeling and getting to know every single element going within its walls. The track shifts through so many differing states of mild euphoria, the deep set feels of the backing instrumentals give credence to Hooi's voice, which only continues to grow in stature as time passes by, the resulting mix of sounds beautifully in tune with our meandering mental states, easily providing us with a light in which to explore this gorgeous piece of the world. Stunning stuff. 'Lucky' comes next, and this one begins with the textured hums to set the scene. The hums are quickly joined by the sharp and sweet samples that move around on top, and before long we are joined by a gorgeous synth loop, its immediately warm nature rising from the far distance to arrive very close to us as the track passes by, and like that the track finishes, and we are left with just a memory of what once was.
'Prince S Version' arrives next, and this one starts off very special indeed. The drums are light and spacious, with the numerous layers that arrive soon after helping to really emphasis the sense of rhythm that moves from the top to the bottom, from the hazy psychedelic guitar to the rigid bass movements, and the lightest chordal movements through the middle, it all just works to embrace the listener with everything its got, and that feeling is pretty magical indeed. The track moves through a series of swells before arriving at a moment where the drums and guitar remain in our sights, with Hooi's voice coming into the fray at this point, with the bass returning to add depth into the mixture, the dub laden guitar sweeps continuing to add flavour and texture. Big stuff right here. To wrap things up, we have 'Always In Jokes', and this one continues with the big room guitar and light bass meanderings to get us going. The guitar really comes to the fore on this one, moving its way through the lines to fill up the room and create an enormous scope indeed for Hooi to come in with her transfixing voice, the sharp tones of both in this track craft an atmosphere that is completely engrossing from the off. Her words act alongside the sharp sweeps and gentle cascading keys, our minds placed somewhere in the middle of proceeding as we take a deep breath and have a look around at all the wonderment. Its a fitting end to a record that is filled to the brim with atmosphere and gentle sonics, a whisper in the night that evolves into a cavernous space that fills the heart and mind with everything you could ever need. A record that will soundtrack any kind of emotional and mental meandering to its utmost, and one we will certainly be returning to each and every time.
You certainly leave this record feeling all kinds of ways, and that speaks volumes of the kind of sequential experience that Hooi and Manek were trying to craft on this really fine record. From the off the parameters of sound are scaled significantly to provide depth and feel, crafting a strong bond between the listener and itself as a means to engage and tantalise with each passing bar. The music is filled to the brim with instances that take the breath away, notions and spaces that contain all manner of excellence but the essence of it all is what truly leaves an impression on us, an invisible spirit that knits it all together so superbly as the narrative abounds from every corner of the map. We feel in a myriad of ways, the relationships which we forge with each track a little bit different every single time, but always remaining consistent in the joy that is forged within us as Hooi begins her vocal sequences and the guitar rises high to make us feel excitement all over. A record that stands alone as a piece of art, a slice of heaven, and a real statement. Beautiful stuff, from start to finish.
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