It’s a common instinct among people, to link music to the phenomena of the world around us. From the inextricable connection to the land of early indigenous music to Bach’s invocations of color to the array of modern artists using visual backdrops for live shows. Natural imagery often acts as inspiration for the sounds we create as we seek meaning through multi-sensory experience of the chaotic beauty surrounding us. It’s something that has clearly dominated the mind of Canadian electronic musician Jamison Isaak, manifesting itself through his recent work as Teen Daze. Releasing two nature-oriented albums this year, January’s Themes for Dying Earth and this week’s counterpart Themes for a New Earth, Teen Daze has given a name to his ambitions.
Everything about these releases – the scenic album art, tracks titled the likes of ‘River Walk’, ‘An Alpine Forest’ and ‘First Rain’, even the release through Isaak’s own label aptly named FLORA – encapsulate what he is trying to achieve. It seeks to absorb listeners entirely into the world through the music, an experience he has alluded to in his own life more than once. Tweeting about his weakness for open-world farming game Stardew Valley, professing his love for sci-fi show The Expanse and even throwing in cheeky reference to the world of Final Fantasy with song ‘Kilika’, Isaak’s geeky pleasures make a lot of sense. He’s busied himself creating richly textured and atmospheric soundscapes that capture the sensation of escaping into far-off lands that games and television often provide. Effectively utilizing the synthetic world of electronic music to evoke the organic one, with Themes for a New Earth Teen Daze asks listeners to take that escapism of imagined worlds and apply it to the world we already have.
It’s tempting to seek to draw some sort of stark contrast between the two albums, and it is indeed tangibly more optimistic, but the polarity the titles allude to largely exists in name only. Rather, this latest record acts as the other side of the coin to the earlier release; an ally more than a foe, more succor than foil. It gives the impression the two belong together, that the titular dying earth and new earth are one and the same and entirely inseparable from one another. The music on New Earth is simultaneously sad, hopeful, haunting, and beautiful, in much the way it was on Dying Earth. With tranquil resolve it captures ideas around life and death; the implication that one cannot be without the other, that chaos and harmony inevitably inhabit the same space and that all of it simply exists in a way we cannot control. There’s a calming acceptance to that idea that Teen Daze channels here and in doing so he has created a remarkably equalizing piece of work.
It’s an album that flutters, floats and soars in equal parts. Transitioning gently between its moments, it channels the work of great artists who have come before while maintaining a unique sincerity that isn’t always easy to find in this ever-growing corner of the musical world. The twinkling keys and meandering guitar lines of ‘Kilika’ and ‘Wandering Through Kunsthal’ seamlessly fit alongside peers such as Tycho and Helios while the rich, ambient textures of ‘Echoes’ and reverb-drenched drones of ‘An Alpine Forest’ invoke the likes of Eno and Hammock. It’s all infused with gorgeously rendered samples, subtle atmospherics and minimal percussion that pay homage to electronica paragons Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada.
But where much music in this vein relies on dense layering to fill space and create mood, there’s a light and fragile – almost transparent – quality to Teen Daze’s work, as though the layers have been carefully lowered atop one another and left a thin pillow of air between them. Not in a fluffy or insipid way, the melodies and atmosphere often have an undeniable melancholy to them, but it leaves you with a deliberate drafting sense of separation and escape. Airy synths underpin glistening xylophone droplets on ‘Echoes’, delayed guitars dance with shimmering synthesizers on ‘On the Edge of a New Age’ while drones swell, recede and softly linger on the gorgeous keystone of the record ‘An Alpine Forest’. It’s supremely pretty stuff that expertly recognizes prettiness does not necessarily denote joy.
Isaak has spoken of these records as representative of the humbling effect the natural world can have on us, and the urgent need for humanity to appreciate and preserve the ancient wonders that dwarf our species’ existence. Drawing on myriad soundtrack influences designed to enhance the visual world screens are capable of immersing us in, with Themes for a New Earth Teen Daze has created an effective soundtrack to the living, breathing world we live in. With understated wonder and beauty it captures the requisite awe and infinite hope the earth provides while encapsulating its fragility, the haunting sorrow of our thoughtless treatment of it and the harrowing direction that might take humankind.