A Journal Of The Dark Arts
On North Of Fifty Four, the debut album from ’emotive electronic artist and sound designer’ Chris Szott, the producer turns to his own past in search of faded glory.
I’ll come right out and say it: Sirch sounds like Boards Of Canada. They both share a love of tape-crushed, detuned analog synthesizers; a strong sense of melody; tight, punchy, headnodding beats; and fuzzy warbled children’s samples.
The trouble with inspiration is it too often turns to imitation. Too many artists heard Boards Of Canada and fell in love, striving only to make music that sounds like Boards Of Canada, rather than what they represent. They wouldn’t go far enough, and you end up with a slew of impostors and shallow music. The same is true of journalists. Many would be content to stick with ‘if you like BoC, you’ll love this!’ (which is true), rather than digging deeper into what an artist is trying to say, or why they are saying it.
I think though that “the sound” is more rooted in nostalgia, in the past. At least for me, this album and most of what I write are audible snapshots of memories I have as a young child. And naturally we associate detuned, warm instruments with imperfection and analog – and years ago that’s all there was so it’s a bit of a nod to “what was then.”
– from Reddit
Chris Szott is no mere imitator. His use of nostalgic samples and warped keyboards seems too personal for that. The term ’emotive electronic artist’ is surprisingly accurate, as Szott’s machines produce emotional landscapes. They conjure images of epic sunrises (“Last Swim Of The Year”), or blurry Kodachrome home movies, like something out of The Wonder Years (“Beach Babies”). The nostalgia is merely one aspect, however, as Sirch branches out into other genres and imagery, like the alley chase scene of “A Way We Go” or the derelict space station of “Thunderstorm”.
We are all influenced by something. No art is created in a vacuum. It is a question of what we do with those influences. Sirch takes the headnodding, retrodelic template of BoC, and fills in the cracks with tiny, personal details. Close inspection reveals a producer who knows what he is doing and has something to say, as can be seen in the pumping, crumbling surface texture of “Pierce The Sky”. He’s got mad production skills, a firm handle on his toolkit. His beats are strong and clear. His synths are glowingly recorded and processed.
All of this studio trickery is in service of the music, which is where Sirch really shines. It’s mindblowing that this is his debut album, as his musical instincts are right on. These songs are full of surprising breakdowns, that are fluid and organic, but still tight and controlled. Close listening to North Of Fifty Four reveal layers and levels and depth, that rewards repeat listening.
North Of Fifty Four is a clever investigation of memory and imagination. Chris Szott is looking back on his childhood, and invites you to do the same. He invites us all to dig deeper, to look past the surface, and find the heart. It’s an impressive debut. Sirch is a name to watch out for.
North Of Fifty Four is available as a pay-what-you-like download, on bandcamp.