Thursday, 12 October 2017

πŸ’Ώ MAXO — SKYRISER

Remember the Nintendo WFC music from Mario Kart Wii? The opening of 'Dependent' on Maxo's very recent Skyriser EP recalls this. There are the spacey synths, the stuttering drums, the feeling of restrained ecstasy that a person feels as they do something immensely exciting controlled by their thumbs and contained within a screen. Ultimately there is no actual wind rushing through your hair, no real monstrous tortoise shells rifling at your head. It's even better: it's in another world. And to add to that already beguiling prospect there is this hyperactive, highly kinetic sound, just to ensure you get the message that this is escapist fun.

Similar cool, breezy synths run through 'Tears In The Wind' with their alien modulation. Starry melodies plink gently across this carpet of percussive electronic activity, leaving behind a trail of stardust reverb. There is also a touch of Earthbound in how the synth chords are muffled at times, how they sometimes seem atonal, and in the rhythm with which they hit your ears, a similar modulation and fuzzy feeling that's in the 'Battle Against a Machine' theme.

Clearly VGM, videogame music, is an influence. But alongside this, infused with it, is an almost outlandish experimentalism, which results at all times in bold dynamic eruptions. The overall intensity of 'Tears In The Wind', for instance, how buzzes abrasively, its bass scowling and gonna-blow, how the chords at times (e.g. around 2:39) chromatise with rapid ascension through semitones, and how cuts in the music itself create these sudden jumps through negative space, literally startling your brain as it attempts to react (0:58); similarly at 0:29 in 'Dependent' the unexpected rush of space into ears is then counteracted with stumbling staccato sound. There's the unforeseen switch in 'Kite' from intense rainbow synths to playroom xylophones (1:05), plus its mad wobbling sounds from about 1:55. Or simply the chord progression itself in 'Grow Wings', a beacon of composition with its breakcore beats, glitching electronics and smooth subtle and sparingly used vocal samples. Dynamics, knowing how to play with sound as much as when to create an absence of it for maximum effect, seems to be a Maxo forte.

Little details like these hide away in the Skyriser tracks like Easter eggs, giving each one a high replay value. The album opener and also its certified most-cute 'Plushlined' is a good example of these small parts both making up the whole and being exceptionally enjoyable on their own—the way it starts with this World 1-1 ease and freshness, the plinking melody, the hyper marching band drums, the luscious fingerclicks, snippets of birdsong, rapidly arpeggiating bleeps, airplane sounds, two or three different vocal samples, then the wonky Earthbound-esque synth chords. And that's just the intro. It's intentionally maximalist and bristling with numerous elements without ever seeming overly busy, each one placed precisely whilst retaining a carefree haphazard quality.

But aside from the tiny details there is an overarching theme, or at least seems to be. We begin with cute and happy, then it gets spacey and far-flung, then a bit more serious in the fluffy threats of 'Tears In The Wind', then downright dark at the start of 'Grow Wings' with its brooding vibe in the bulging synth bass and scuttling heavy half-speed beat, before making an intense volta around the midpoint of that track, and going into 'Kite', which begins as a resolution – with vocals presumably from Maxo himself gently crooning over hard beats and that plonking tuned percussion, a concluding sort of track sounding like sunlight glinting on raindrops left after a storm still with dark grey clouds rolling away to reveal endless blue – and which ends as triumphal pogosticking disco.

Indeed the track's titles suggest this sonic storyline, too: 'Plushlined'—well, it conjures cuteness, comfort. 'Dependent' has somewhat negative connotations, especially regarding drugs or even a dependency on people. 'Tears In The Wind', well it's almost self-explanatory: tears are sad enough, but when they are whipped away by the wind, so that even nature finds your sadness ill-fitting, it has even more lonely, repressive symbolism. 'Grow Wings', like the track itself, sounds like a kind of volta, a change—or there is a desire to change there, to view a situation from further away, from a more objective viewpoint than on the ground, figuratively speaking; or perhaps it is a desire for escapist wish-fulfilment, to grow wings, to gain a superpower. And then 'Kite'. Kites are simple, fun, associated with childhood wonder not-a-care-in-the-world-ness in this non-committal stage of life. Another meaning is of a bird, also called a kite: birds mean freedom, escape.

Thus in Skyriser, even in the title itself we have the point of the EP, the story: from start to finish, from ground to sky, our central character is happy and fine, experiences attachment and then rejection, wanders lonely and sad, somehow grows wings and ascends into the sky.

The EP comes with three remixes, essentially different tracks rather than recognisable reworkings. Two are of 'Grow Wings'—Tomggg flips it into a virtuosic tumble of bleeping sounds, uptempo skittering dopamine-firing electronic melodies and low bassy booms; on the other hand TREKKIE TRAX-affiliated producer Carpainter turns the track into a frenzy of happy hardcore. The other remix is TORIENA, who puts a breakcore-flavoured spin on 'Tears In The Wind' with glitched-out chiptune sensibilities. These are stylistically likeminded artists, ones who help with the colour palette of Skyriser even further, adding to its moodboard of high-powered fun: absolutely this is dance music that eschews lyrics and formulae for imagination and free association, swaps populism for poptacular, paints a fresh nightclub – if only in our headphones, in our bedrooms – for nerds and internet people and gamers and creatives and for anybody else who wants to be taken elsewhere by music.


  • πŸ”” Maxo's Skyriser EP was released on 11th October by Japan-located label TREKKIE TRAX. You may purchase the EP by clicking this hyperlink and subsequently deciding exactly which service you would like to use in order to do so.
  • πŸ”” The artwork for Skyriser was created by visual artist and also musicmaker Yung Slav. It features Maxo's musicmaking logo – the interlocked cubes – hurtling into a splash of crystalline aquamarine liquid. There's a lot of kineticism and fluidity in the visuals, reflecting the movement and natural, effortless flow of the compositions on the EP; or else, in opposition to the EP's title, the logo, textured smoothly rocky like an asteroid, falls towards the Earth. Perhaps that is the silent, visual beginning of Skyriser, and after this comes 'Plushlined' which sonically describes the newly-arrived-on-Earth creature whose story we subsequently follow.


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