Okada-Floating Away From the World: Album Review

Okada is a reincarnation of sorts for Seattle’s Gregory Pappas.  Under the moniker ZXYZXY, Pappas released a slew of experimental electronic music with beats mostly falling secondary to ambient space and drones.  Okada’s Floating Away From the World sounds like his most mature effort to date.  The work takes massive swaths of space and sustains them with subtle change and painstakingly gradual developments.  The record ends with a 22-minute piece, which admittedly drones along a bit excessively at the end, but before that not a moment feels wasted.  At the climaxes of his tunes, these beautiful, unflinching vocal samples soar, but Pappas spends so much time reaching this final focus that he really keeps the listener on the edge of their seat.  Also, his use of acoustic material, including strings and pianos, at the breaks between stagnant beat structures makes for some truly breathtaking moments.

“Shredded Remains of Hope” opens with textured static sounds.  Nearly inaudible bass lines give a sense of depth as higher frequency drones fill in the headspace with a melodic element being provided by some subtle piano phrasing.  Throughout the record, there’s always some sense of rhythm and even in this passage, the electronic drone sounds are constantly swelling at different rates to create movement.  When the beat comes in, there’s still a sort of lilting, soupy element to the sound, but as the piece goes on—and more layers are added—the sonic portrait becomes more and more pointed.  It’s amazing how Okada uses such tiny vocal samples, but still manages to piece them together over a long period of time.  Here, pitch-shifted versions of the sample decorate the space around five minutes in, gradually becoming more present before getting its first utterance around eight minutes in.  Even here, the sample is buried deep in the background.  This gradual process of revealing the most memorable melodic material makes the 14-minute track slide by effortlessly.

It’s certainly worth mentioning that all four of the tracks follow a similar developmental path, so perhaps the next record could afford a bit more contrast.  Still, there are a few unique choices worth mentioning. “Don’t Come Any Closer” takes a boldly lethargic tempo and the piano is much more present.   From the outset, these high, ornamental chords bring a great deal of emotion into the track, and with the beat going there’s a lot of rhythmic variation that takes place.  The vocal phrasing sees some really intriguing development on “An Endless Battle of Memories.”  Rather than centering the climax of the track around a single vocal clip, Okada puts the sample at three different frequencies, which changes tempo and pitch.  This allows the front half of the track to be even more esoteric with the vocal samples as Pappas pulls pieces from all three versions, only revealing their relation at the end.  Also, this adds another rhythmic element as the three elements interact in conflicting ways.

The acoustic moments on the album add another human element into the generally sterile space.  On the final track, Pappas opens with four minutes of beat-less, ambient space where piano ramblings slowly preview the on-coming vocal melody.  Strings enter after the vocals adding a beautiful cushion to the space.  As the tune reaches its peak the strings swell with gushing countermelodies and soaring high notes, making for a rather glorious moment. Another possible critique of this album would be that Okada isn’t trying to test beauty with experimental sounds or instruments, but moments like these are seriously hard to argue against.

With tracks ranging 11 to 22 minutes, Floating Away From the World is almost a meditative experience over anything else.  However, Okada makes some impressively subtle decisions that keep the development going.  From the tiny clips of already short vocal samples that sprinkle the beginning of the tracks, to the cushions of glistening strings, this album delivers ideas that keep you waiting and others that bathe you in beauty.

-Donovan Burtan




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