Where you make a record can have a huge effect on its vibe. You can, for instance, feel the distance between Justin Vernon and the rest of the world on Bon Iver’s album, For Emma, Forever Ago, recorded in a log cabin out in the sticks whilst he eased a broken heart.
A similar premise shapes Vancouver-based Jamison Isaak’s latest project. Suffering from some chronic anxiety, Isaak moved from Abbotsford, British Columbia, to a more rural part of the Fraser Valley and honed his craft to still his busy mind.
Considering the location of the recording of his previous album (Morning World was made in the trendy metropolis of San Francisco in 2015), it is fair to see why the man might have needed a bit of respite. Under his moniker, Teen Daze, Isaak tells the next part of his tale, and it’s the best yet.
Isaak’s roots in the now-largely-unheard-from genre, chillwave, have provided a basis for forming soundworlds (as seen on his 2010 EP, Four More Years), from which he progressed to a more alt-indie sound as seen on Morning World. Themes For Dying Earth combines these endeavours for a harmonious result. The record is infused with ambient production techniques, warm vinyl/white noise sound, dissonant piano parts, guitar, and lush harmonies.
The plonky plastic-sounding synth piano of the opening track, “Cycle”, coaxes the ear in before drenching it in the first soundworld of many. The lyrics seem to speak of his finding salvation in nature: “You are the only one/That speaks into me, yeah/Breaks the cycle, breaks the cycle” sounds romantic, but it feels he is speaking of his location, not of a love-interest.
Though a chilled and ambient record, there are moments that pack punches beyond its camp and delve into others (intentionally or otherwise, it’s effective as).
For instance, “Dream City” boasts a lengthy, spacey intro that builds tension in the same way a big room dance track would; a synth that sounds like a low-flying helicopter hovering melodically into a gated filter gives a feeling similar to that moment in a club where the DJ has everyone on tenterhooks waiting for the beat to drop.
Of course, there is no ensuing drop here but an equally exhilarating soft chord progression that swells in; Isaak’s sheer resourcefulness with few carefully selected elements means this simple idea is repeated over and over for the entirety of the track and compels me to the end.
Though the record is largely chilled, more upbeat is “Rising”, featuring indie outfit, Sound Of Ceres. Vocalist Karen Hover’s croon melts as beautifully into Isaak’s soundworlds as his own, whilst the euphoric thick-stringed substance of “Water In Heaven”, features a reluctant, underwater pulsing beat. The sheer sensuousness of this track showcases what Isaak specialises in – surfaces, textures, soundworlds.
A mastery Isaak showcases subtly on this record is the ability to get sounds to behave in manners outside of their respective day jobs. The guitar part on “Wandering Through Kunsthal” seems to do the talking for the track, speaking lyrical notes and phrases that seem to have the character of words. “Cherry Blossoms”, on which Dustin Wong plays guitar, has an intro that feels like I’m starting up a Windows 98.
There is something “old-school telephone” about the oscillating synth parts; the dialup-tone vibe is offset with a plodding guitar counter-melody before all is swallowed by swelling strings. One of the simplest and most beautiful tracks.
“Breath” does what it says on the tin, consisting of a dissonant, bubbling synth part that simply inhales and exhales (maybe symbolising just what Isaak moved away to catch). Altogether, this carefully crafted record is inspirational: it urges and inspires one to up sticks and go somewhere a bit more pastoral, to get a bit more peace. Teen Daze’ Themes For Dying Earth can be purchased on iTunes, here.
Words by Hannah Bruce