Friday, 26 January 2018

💿 ANTONIO MENDEZ — HIGHLAND DRIVE

The legacy of Lindsay Lowend's Wind Fish EP continues on almost five years after it first appeared: Maxo's bootleg of 'GT40' for a 2017 Christmas treat, for instance, shows that it's still lodged in the psyche of online music. But something had happened between then and now. Comments were disabled on LL's SoundCloud, the plays-like-repost numbers invisible, his Twitter account disappeared. The type of music moved well away from the VGM-juke of his famous Zelda-inspired EP, and onto a snappy sorta house music focused on texture, as in 2016 track 'Downtown Mannequin'. Lindsay Lowend appeared to us again Spring 2017 with a remix of 'Paused Parade' by Young Summer.

It was around this time that we learned Lindsay Lowend was pursuing endeavours in the realm of sound design under the name Tony Mendez; we'd discovered his Vimeo channel, and in particular an impressive video in which he redubbed music and sound effects from a Breath of the Wild trailer. In the description he commented:

Practicing foley. Explored all over my neighborhood and some woods nearby to get a lot of these sounds. Super fun.
The precisionist thinking required in first of all finding and documenting various sounds is itself vast, but to then chop these up into the best parts and set them to images is a process that must tune an ear to the finest details or, more likely, reflects a fastidious mind. This itself is evidenced in (now known as) Antonio Mendez's surprise new self-released album called Highland Drive, part collection of experiments with textures both recorded IRL and synthesised, part seasonal journey of music in which winter is illustrated in its superficial coldness and the feeling it evokes.

Synths, often soft (reminiscent of snow as much as wrapping up warm), describe this frosty temperature for much of the album with long stretches of lonely reverb, signalling with the expansive feeling both a more rural setting than urban and with its thin, almost harsh nature, the cold itself: being able to see your breath on a chilly day. Opening track 'Too Cold For Slugs' introduces this atmosphere, and the album's second 'Cordell' develops it with a thirty second section that evokes the bittersweet feeling of a winter sunset, whilst later the title track begins with wintry chords.

But final track 'Shovelling Snow' both in its title and sound best sums up the feel of the season. First heard in 'Cordell', that winter sunset-feeling snippet comes back as a motif and refrains for the whole track, soaked in dazzling icy reverb like a snow flurry. There's a sense of contentment tinged with melancholy, an emotive happysadness that evokes not only the title – the purposeful yet pointless act of shovelling snow – but also and more generally winter: its stark beauty, the freshness of the cold, how glorious it can be on a blue sky day, but how freezing it can be, how isolating. Stretches of decayed trance sound siphon an uneasiness, a yearning, into the seeming normality of the melody, creating this dual feeling.

This uneasiness also appears in other tracks that feature a more experimental, sometimes decayed synth sound, like the scratchy and clattering synth leads in 'Cordell'. 'Junkyard Drama' shows off an ultra-distorted intro before modulated acidic synths twang elastic atop sheafing white noise chords; zesty electronics shaded with bitcrush ping throughout 'Too Cold For Slugs', whilst rapid-fire staccato bloops ping-pong in the speedy 'Ghost Notes'. Conversely the album also harbours warmth in its some of its sounds too: the feeling of a comforting hot meal or a well insulated coat; thick chords bubble at the start of 'A Perfectly Common Accident', foam and charge ear-massaging throughout 'Highland Drive', fuzz along in 'Cordell'.

They have this moderate temperature in Earthbound-flavoured 'City Place', first evidence of glitch sensibilities on Highland Drive, sounding with its oddly warped chords and glomping subtle bubbles of bass like a homage to the SNES classic, the decay of it all like the internal workings of a computer. Similar computerisation exists in the fizzing crackling circuitry sounds at the beginning of the title track, the beat here possibly the most substantial on the album, following a robust breakbeat pattern with this beautifully phantomatic tract of uzi hi-hats midway. Beats play a large part: they're experimented with throughout the album, from the garage-flavours of the delicate percussion in 'Cordell' and pseudo-garage beat pattern of 'City Place', to the breezy house beats that bookend the album in its closer and opener.

But it's in 'Ghost Notes' that we see Antonio Mendez erupt into an exposition of breakcore, a real world sound on loop below the glitched-out twizzling and speeding up of snares in an Amen-style drum break; there's a vocal sample taken from a video by infamous drummer Bernard Purdie teaching people about advanced drumming techniques, fitting for a song with such dopamine-firing beatwork. 'A Perfectly Common Accident' is similarly breakcore in style, the bpm increasing even further around 1:40 for breakneck velocity, bitcrushed cymbal and tight snare joining a panning blanket of found sound around its midpoint, ending on a delicious fade-out of soft-fuzzy wah-wah chords.

The speed of those two makes the album's general focus on the minutiae of sound most impressive; to be so precise with the amount of percussive sounds going on very quickly is no mean feat. However since both tracks are essentially high-speed experiments, they don't overshadow the rest of the Highland Drive, nor do they seem out of place as the precedent for attention-to-detail in texture, quality, variety was set in the very first track. Antonio Mendez's efforts in sound engineering gleam brilliantly not just in the nuanced percussion and beats – each bristling percussive hit and insectoid rasp different from standard beatsets and most definitely toyed-with – but also in how the synths sound, from wobbly and elastic to twanging metallic, trance-like to thickly gurgling. It's another release from the brain that gave us Wind Fish, but this time the roots are in reality and not variations on a theme; it feels mature, subtle, an evolution in sound through the demonstrable progress in a skillset.


  • 🔔 You can download Antonio Mendez's wonderful Highland Drive in its entirety for $5US from his Bandcamp. You can also stream it variously via your favourite service by clicking on this hyperlink.


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Antonio Mendez Internet Presence ☟
soundcloudvimeobandcamp


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