Aarktica: In Sea Remixes
Even though you know something to be an obvious truth…sometimes is just feels reassuring to see it in print. We’ve been big fans of Jon DeRosa (the man who is Aarktica) for quite some time now…and we’ve always had the distinct feeling that this man is driven first and foremost by the desire to create. As such, it felt particularly nice reading the press release that accompanied this CD…in which DeRosa validated some of our feelings. In Sea Remixes features fourteen remixes by artists Ramses III, slicnation, Summer Cats, Al Qaeda, Mason Jones, Yellow6, Planar, Keith Caisius, thisquietarmy, Remora, James Duncan, Declining Winter, Pan, and Landing. The original Aarktica mixes were already strange and heady…so it comes as no surprise that the same is true for these versions. We’ve loved everything we’ve heard thus far from DeRosa. He’s one of those artists you can always depend on to come through with intriguing quality music with a conscience. This is an individually numbered limited edition CD (only 500 copies). TOP PICK.
One of 2009′s best releases gets the remix treatment from loads of talented musicians. Drop everything and buy this.
Jon DeRosa’s elegiac masterpiece of an ambient-drone record In Sea got me through a very busy semester of school last year. The weight of the music, DeRosa’s amazing story, and the therapeutic nature it had on me as I sat up writing paper after paper led to an easy place on my best of 2009 list. Now, Silber Records is graciously releasing a glorious remix album no more than 3 months after its initial release. The remix album is a tricky feat to pull off. First, the source material has to be strong enough to retain its core attributes while withstanding radical tonal and textural changes.
A big check in that box.
Second, the contributers have to alter the original recording enough to warrant another listen to a song you have spun through over a dozen times.
Put another check there.
Those said changes have to alter the song enough to make you look at it in another light, recognizing things that you missed and opening the song to limitless possibilities.
Three for three.
Fourth, make sure Prefuse-73 is on there.
Oh man, so close.
While Scott Herren may be absent, Aarktica’s talented friends more than make up for this. Remixes include contributions from Al Qaeda (fellow non-SLC moondial tape contributers) who take “A Plague of Frosts” and underscore it with post-industrial percussion and haunting field-recordings in the vein of Odd Nosdam’s eerie “Burner” off Level Live Wires. My favorite remixes are by Planar and Keith Canisuis who take previous wordless songs and sing over them, totally owning the song and changing its very meaning. I have an unhealthy obsession with the Keith Canisuis remix of “Autumnal”, I love his decidedly 80′s take on the song, transforming the subtle guitar lines into cheesy 80′s synth lines and gorgeously-weird keyed up vocals. I don’t know very much about this Dutch artist, but I expect to be delving into his back catalogue very soon. Other contributers include but are not limited to: Aidan Baker-collaborator-ThisQuietArmy, the skittering electronic percussion of yellow6, Mason Jones, the pastoral field recordings of Summer Cats. TOME favs Remora, Declining Winter, James Duncan, Ramses III, etc… Not to be missed.
~ Ryan Hall, Tome to the Weather Machine
Discovering In Sea on the cusp of winter paid some enormous dividends. Like an ode to the silence and stillness that snow brings, Jon DeRosa’s latest full-length will always fit my early November memory of wandering Chinatown at 1AM; its careful drones and webs of guitar grimacing between buildings and sprinkling a first frost. What could’ve scored mountainous treks or, I don’t know, collapsing icebergs, ended up soundtracking my walk through concrete grays, which would seem like a waste if In Sea’s mood – graceful yet downtrodden – didn’t compel such honest surroundings. Those who, like me, basked in Aarktica’s cross-breezes of emotional numbness have unintentionally reaped another bonus: the eventual thaw.
A topic of discussion since the release of its parent record, In Sea Remixes collects a new take on each album track plus an appendix of ‘Am I Demon’ remixes initially plotted for a separate EP release. With a slew of talented contributors (among them Rameses III, Yellow6, and The Declining Winter), In Sea Remixes also boasts surprises uncommon of its recycled blueprint. Namely, this collection defies my usual disinterest in remixes. Whereas most remix compilations uproot sequencing and mood in favour of track-privatization (in other words, the act of artists covering their own asses, final product be damned), In Sea Remixes flows like the original record if Aarktica had been inspired by IDM and electronic pop. That spray of optimistic beams first borne on ‘Young Light’ gets vocals and a hazy makeover courtesy of Planar while Mason Jones reworks the title track with crisp post-rock percussion that compliments DeRosa’s echo-drenched guitars. If those aforementioned remixes successfully incorporate cousin-genres to In Sea’s rippling drones, Keith Canisius’ take on ‘Autumnal’ gets downright ballsy, crafting a subtle dance-beat with pitch-shifted, cut-up vocals. It’s a loose translation of the original but also one of the record’s top tracks. The greatest of these many revelations is that In Sea Remixes, despite its variety, flows like a more vivid, spontaneous companion, one which praises its source material while evoking the sounds of spring. From the melting tones of ‘LYMZ’ (by Slicnaton) and chirping birds of ‘Hollow Earth Theory’ (by Summer Cats) to the laptop beats and warm piano of ‘Onward!’ (by Yellow6), these remixes celebrate an end of hibernation, not to mention the begging question of where Jon DeRosa plans to go next.
At the risk of setting a precedent, it’s worth noting that not everything here comes up roses. James Duncan’s remix of ‘When We’re Ghosts’ is likely the most adventurous, what with its club-ready beats and random “fuck you!” snippets, but it nearly makes a late-bid to deride what is, for the most part, an exception to the Remix-Album-Rule. In these rare instances of lost focus, it’s the heavier contributions – deep drones by ThisQuietArmy and collaged chaos by Al Qaeda – that rope the release back on par with Aarktica’s densely shaped moods. And remaining true to the feel of In Sea isn’t so hard when DeRosa’s performances still sizzle beneath each of these renditions. A remix album that stands by its inspiration while reaching in several fruitful directions? I could get used to this.
~ Skeleton Crew Quarterly
It’s nice to revisit this music by Jon DeRosa through the aural lens of the likes of Planar, Keith Canisius, Mason Jones, Slicnaton, Al Qaeda, Ramses III, Thisquietarmy, Landing, Remora, Declining Winter, Yellow6, and others. Whether they add violin (12), vocals (1, 7, 12,), or beats (6, 7, 8, 11 13), these remix artists take the ambient beauty and change it up nicely.
~ Pax Humana, KFJC
Last year’s In Sea, the most recent full-length of Jon DeRosa’s Aarktica project, was, at once, warmly familiar and curiously novel. Its tracks certainly exhibited the particular sound that DeRosa has been cultivating for years under the Aarktica banner, a three-way intersection of drone, ambient, and intimate bedroom pop, but its means were austere, eschewing the electronics and guest-spots that characterized previous records in favor of only his voice, guitars, and antique pump organ. It was, as the album’s press release states, the collection of the sounds that had “haunted his head for years,” which speaks volumes for an artist whose sense of solitude is often apt to leave listeners feeling voyeuristic guilt long after discs have stopped spinning.
One might find it curious, then, that DeRosa would so quickly hand over hi
s most personal record to others for a remix project, but In Sea Remixes evinces a fellowship and, more importantly, shared aesthetic direction among the artists that prevents it from being just another hokey throwaway and, instead, enshrines it as a fitting companion piece to the original. In fact, you couldn’t blame a listener unaccustomed with In Sea for confusing this album for a bona fide Aarktica offering. There’s a coherence throughout Remixes of the type of tasty ambiguity on which records such as Pure Tone Audiometry and Bleeding Light were predicated, with a group of post-rock mavens further abstracting DeRosa’s already slippery drones into even hazier textures.
“I Am (The Ice)” was a still track already, and Rameses III’s “Sky Burial” remix sounds like another angle of the same iceberg. In Sea’s most emotionally direct song (aided by the fact that it was one of only two to feature voice), “Hollow Earth Theory,” is here given a more atmospheric treatment via Summer Cats, who allow bird and sea sounds to quietly jostle DeRosa’s electronically treated voice for prominence in the mix. Further on the ambient front, ThisQuietArmy render “Corpse Reviver No. 2″ into a dirge every bit as ominous as its title. James Duncan and Remora dance “When We’re Ghosts” and “Instill,” respectively, to the end of kitsch and back, offering Remixes a necessary levity amidst the otherwise impenetrable solemnity. Keith Canisius’s approach to “Autumnal,” a certain high-point on the album, bridges the two most present styles on Remixes–ambient and dance–into a twinkly piece reminiscent of Boards of Canada and other IDM artists. In Sea’s most curious track, a stripped-down and personalized cover of Danzig’s “Am I Demon?,” is thrice reinterpreted, by Landing, Pan, and Declining Winter (Richard Adams of Hood), each track emerging not simply as DeRosa’s original with a few sonic fingerprints but as intimate works of their own merit.
In Sea Remixes is pleasant throughout, even if its versions are occasionally on the safe side (ambient into ambient isn’t exactly an unpredictable or particularly imaginative leap). Other participants include Slicnaton, Al Qaeda, Mason Jones, and Planar. The record is available through Silber Records as a limited edition CD (500 copies) or digital download.
~ Jacob Price, Delusions of Adequacy
First off, let me confess that remix albums typically bore and irritate me – like listening to the 20 minute 12” dance mix of some 2:00 pop dittie. They usually rob all the life out of the original, turning it into scrambled, unrecogniseable mush. But Aarktica’s Jon DeRosa was involved firsthand with this project, and admits his originals (which we reviewed here) were perfectly suited to the remix concept, so much so that the artists actually reworked his songs, rather than simply rearranging a few notes here and there.
It also helps that many of the remixers work in the same genre/style as De Rosa (which I’ve labeled “snorecore”, though I know Phil in particular is a big fan and considers that a little disparaging!), e.g., Ramses III, Yellow6, and Terrascope/stock faves, Landing, Hood (courtesy Richard’s Declining Winter project) and Mason Jones (late of SubArachnoid Space), that the new versions are interesting tweaks rather than bastardised, “well, I think you should have mixed it this way” pronouncements.
Such is the case with Ramses III’s ‘Sky Burial Remix’ of original album opener, ‘I Am (The Ice).’ Both float along like ice bergs in the mid-Atlantic searching for unsuspecting cruise ships. Summer Cats take one of De Rosa’s two vocal tracks (‘Hollow Earth Theory’) and add several layers of echoes, crashing waves, and flocks of seagulls to put the listener in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean – an entirely new experience that adds an aura of tension to the original ballad. Al Qaeda add waves of industrial machinery to ‘A Plague of Frost (In The Guise of Diamonds),’ sadly burying one of the album’s most peaceful and meditative tracks under a maelstrom of pseudo-explosions and mushroom clouds of shredded guitars – sort of what I was afraid of when I first heard the word “remix.” And Mason Jones adds a drum track to the title track that I’m not sure I agree with, although the dichotomy is interesting – like catching some Z’s in a hammock on a summer day while your next door neighbour is building a treehouse in his backyard. Keith Canisius does the same with ‘Autumnal,” condensing the guitar lines to sound not unlike Robert Smith’s gothic arpeggios with The Cure. He even adds lyrics, thus extending the track an additional two minutes and, like Yellow6 (below) creates an entirely new song. And I can certainly do without James Duncan’s disco remix of ‘When We Were Ghosts.’
Elsewhere, Yellow6 mutes the gorgeously cascading guitar arpeggios from ‘Onward!’ and intensifies the echoed effect like a newbie who just discovered a wah-wah pedal. He also doubles the track’s original length, adding more drum fx, glitches and piano strolling to create an entirely different song. This one might have been more effective on a tribute album rather than a remix, wherein I see the artist’s role as one of refiner, modifyer – stretching the original into new territories, but essentially using the same backing track instead of creating something in his own image. It should still sound like an Aarktica track, not a Yellow6 track. The project concludes with three rearrangements of Danzig’s ‘Am I Demon?’ Richard Hood (aka Declining Winter) adds violin and an even more haunting vocal track, Pan goes for the bleeps and bloops electronic approach, and our friends in Landing match DeRosa’s stark, aimless, almost hypnotic interpretation with one of the album’s finest arrangements.
An interesting pseudo-collaboration that will be of interest to DeRosa’s fans to see how his music can be transformed in the hands of some of the current crop of “old men playing in the same circles as Aarktica.” Most of the laidback, almost melancholic vibe of the original is lost, so fans of DeRosa’s return to Aarktica’s more glacial arrangements may have to listen with a grain of salt, but newbies are certainly encouraged to pick up the original and A/B the tracks as we did. It’s an ear-opening experience and an education in musical interpretation and extrapolation.
~ Jeff Penczak, Terrascope Online
Remix albums have been around for donkey’s years, beginning in Jamaica when popular albums were often issued in a largely vocal free dub version. Post-disco, things often got ridiculous with discs containing seemingly dozens of rejigged versions of often the same track. Whilst many had their merits (there’s a long list of tracks whose original versions pale into insignificance next to their better known remixes), many were pretty tedious to sit through, and the worst just reeked of cash being squeezed out of gullible fans.
Like the poor, it seems they will always be with us, though. Very few are things you’ll ever sit through more than a couple of times. Often, when an entire album is handed out to a disparate group of artists to work their magic, there is a very uneven quality about the project – from the inspired to the workmanlike. Too often, too, the result is a record that has no sense of flow, but that jumps around from style to style – fine in the download era when you want just a couple of the tracks, but a failure as an album.
Jon DeRosa’s In Sea came out around six months ago. It had its weak links where the music lacked much identity, but there was plenty of strong material. The remix album more or less sticks with the same running order, with only the closing I Am Demon presented in more than one version. What’s remarkable about it is that it hangs together so consistently, despite many of the tracks sounding radically different to the originals.
Sky Burial’s I am (The Ice) is glacially pure ambient with the grit removed from i
ts parent version, but as the album progresses, things get dirtier and darker with fuzzed beats and filthy bass making their presence felt heavily for the first time on Mason Jones’ radical reconstruction of the title track. There is a bright and clean interlude in the centre, with the lush electronic pop ballad Young Light and the Cocteau Twins like Autumnal before the fog and drone return with a vengeance on Corpse Reviver No.2. Danzig’s I Am Demon is transformed into a triptych. The Declining Winter mix is a kind of folk-psyche thing with bagpipe drones as opposed to the horror movie atmospherics of the Pan/Suckers version. The Landing Winter version plays it pretty much straight.
Remora’s remix of Instil is the only track that jars. Not because it’s no good, but simply because it’s just so out of step with the rest of the record. He’s transformed it into a gritty disco/house thing that sounds great, but just feels like it belongs in other company.
So does In Sea Remixes pass the test and stand up as a work in its own right, or just exist as an interesting alternative to the main record? I think it does. In fact I think in a lot of ways it’s the more satisfying collection.
~ Music Musings & Miscellany