zenxienz - Mind Sigh
zenxienz is a Los Angeles-based producer who, according to our great and powerful overlord (editor) is classed as IDM. Fine, but genres tend to confine when an artist reaches the types of sonic landscapes zenxienz has in his newest album, Mind Sigh. The term “experimental electronica” is vague for a reason, because though Mind Sigh, released this February, may tick some IDM boxes, it ticks a lot more out of the box.
zenxienz was born Cameron Williamson in Hong Kong, but soon after moved to Kauai in Hawaii. He began his love of music and performing by performing in school plays and musicals. He played in a band with some success in high school before moving to California. Williamson split from the band in 2016, possibly due to depression and songwriting burnout, he says. It would appear his psyche got very dark indeed, for when he emerged from depression he began producing his own solo electronic music, and now dedicates his work to those struggling with mental illness. He has also become a champion of psychedelics and psychedelic therapy, hoping to spread awareness of these treatments, which he attributes to his own recovery, with his musical platform.
Psychedelia is definitely one of the elements that can be heard on the first single off Mind Sigh, “On Fire”, but it is certainly not the only one. In this one track alone, jazz, experimental hip hop a’la Hudson Mohawke and even lashings of Tangerine Dream-era experimental music are also present. These are not the only elements, but they represent the glorious hodgepodge that is this track. Don’t ask for a traceable melody here, but the beat is eerie and beautiful, and a synth-heavy keyboard drives the track forward with Miles Davis-style improvisation. “On Fire” represents an amazing way to couch jazz and psychedelia in a modern format.
Mind Sigh’s title track is a little easier to follow than “On Fire”, with a funky melody on which zenxienz layers and ornaments other synths and samples. The beat here is also lighthearted, but not exactly funky like the melody. That is, of course, until the track devolves into more noise and improv. Here the track becomes again psychedelic, Dadaist, chaotic, and very jazz fusion-esque. There’s an interesting non-linear song structure here that really gives space for a lot of unique elements to happen within the song. At one moment, for example, the beat threatens to come back - albeit a different beat - with almost a full bar of structured drums, but then said drums once again collapse into an exciting jazz fusion solo. Meanwhile bleeps and bloops, synths and samples swirl around as if coming from every direction. If zenxienz is claiming that psychedelics helped him come out of depression and start writing music again, “Mind Sigh” is pretty strong proof positive.
Another highlight of zenxienz’s third release in four months is album closer “Y3RM”. This track is palpably hip hop and/or IDM, with the closest thing to a bass-heavy beat and melody as is on the album. Once again Hudson Mohawke and other experimental hip hop artists come to mind. A short track at just over two minutes, “Y3RM” gives the sense at first of floating down Alice’s rabbit hole, with different musical elements hovering all around. Natural samples, Asian gongs, buzzing synths and well-placed snares give the appearance of syncopation even when there is nothing to syncopate to. Again here there is darkness and chaos, hope and joy all in one place, intermingling with each other. It is the journey of depression served up as musical Dadaism, and it is categorically and unequivocally beautiful.
Whether it be IDM, electronocized jazz, hiphop or early experimental, zenxienz’s music is universally emotive and genuine. He exemplifies music’s universal power to heal, but he does it in a unique and surprising way. If he weren’t so vocal about his own struggle, his audience would never know the impetus for Mind Sigh. It is thus also very brave of him to attribute the album to his illness and recovery, as listeners may not only relate to and heal from this stellar music therapy, but they may also be inspired to use music and other alternative therapies in order to heal themselves.Feb 28 2017
Writer and contributor on Brutal Resonance
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