Considering his excellent work in sound design, it’s clear that Kurt Feldman is no stranger to the inner workings of production for both business and pleasure. He’s worked closely with various groups and artists such as The Pains of Being Pure at Heart and The Depreciation Guild as well as Kristin Kontrol, and has inserted his lush, dense instrumentation in films and video game soundtracks. His debut album Afar showed his knack at writing and producing his own original work, which, unsurprisingly, just so happened to be near flawless ‘80’s inspired synth-pop. Now, almost four years later, the Brooklyn-based producer is back with another stunning album, this time both more accessible and whimsical than ever.
When listening to “Unprepared,” the main single and first lyrical opener, you’re immediately dropped in Feldman’s sugar soaked, digital world, left to delightfully scamper in the vast fields of glittering synth and quirky, inevitable instrumental flourishes. This enchanting atmosphere sounds incredibly different from any other synth-driven musical project that it often feels as if Designs in Rhythm exists in a vacuum, self-contained in its own unique aura. Feldman never truly gives you a legitimate depiction of ‘80’s aesthetics as a whole, but rather romanticizes them and packs in every technique imaginable, which becomes an ambitious goal that surprisingly works in his favor as the album plays. Feldman gorgeously manipulates his instrumentals to the point where its argued that each song could be considered part of the humorously controversial vaporwave genre, though without the vapid sense of sterility or cynicism that usually comes complimentary. Instead, there’s a dense feeling of warmth and charm that radiates from the album, seen in the title track as well as the more modern “Amorous in Your Absence” and euphoric “Variant.” even when attempting to achieve an atmospheric, otherworldly sound, Feldman’s crisp, complex production shines through, which, ironically, combines beautifully to leave the tracks feeling heavily saturated in both color and emotion.
Though it’s definitely not confirmed to be true, I couldn’t help hearing certain influences throughout the album, or maybe that came when looking at the colors and shapes that made up the cover as I listened. “Unprepared,” for example, with its vivid coloring and whimsical undertones, as well as the brooding, bass powered “Noosphering” don’t sound out of place within certain nostalgic ‘80’s and ‘90s anime, or even ‘80s Japanese cyber-punk and dream imagery illustration. However, whether or not the listener sees these images when listening is highly dependent on the experiences of the listener themselves, and doesn’t necessarily hold much weight, as the album seems to be designed as bright, upbeat, and, most importantly, highly accessible, evoking a variety of lush, vivid images. There are several spots where it even feels almost familiar and warm, and that feeling for us begins and ends with the absolutely beautiful track “Windsurf.” Feldman’s voice is a powerhouse, able to glimmer alongside the lush, jaunty synth, and halfway through, the track emits delicate effects and sonic instrumentals, achieving that otherworldly sound once again.
Designs in Rhythm is just that – lush interpretations and variations of synth-pop, ‘80s electronica, and yes, even vaporwave, all presented in a highly ambitious, yet irresistibly charming package. It’s an album that actively transports you to another world, one where fantasy is able to repeatedly and successfully escape from the snarling teeth of reality.
photo courtesy of shelflife records