By: Tommy “T-Rod” Rodriguez
There’s a lot to process when underground electronic and bass artist Savej kicks off his latest album, titled Solstice. The album’s opening moments are tribal, the mix murky and swirling like the waters of an ancient river. The synths are dazzlingly sharp, however, swimming within that same river like an alien species of fish, splashing across the audio channel. Robotic and human throat singing splash across the ethereal soundscape, combining with flutes in a beautiful and foreign texture. It’s as lush as a rainforest, but the life that teems within it is decidedly synthetic…the more you listen, the closer you become to entering the wondrous world that Savej has embraced…
And that’s just the first track on an album chock full of colorful experimentation.
Being a student of the Karygyaa throat singing style, Savej is no stranger to the uniquely exotic experiences music can grant a listener; his skill on this record grants the listener an experience that is simply unmatched in scope. Solstice is an essential journey for anyone willing to undergo a kaleidoscopic album experience that embraces the soul of tribal music and the creativity of underground electronics.
One of the reasons as to why this review was a lengthy experience simply lies in how detailed the record is; in an era dominated by simple loops and the normalization of verse-chorus-verse structure, it’s refreshing to hear a record that thrives on meticulous, ever-changing song structures. Every note is used to construct a mystical setting, every break in the beat used as a transition into some new spiritual plane Savej hopes to capture. While it can be overwhelmingly complex at points, I find that every re-listen gives me more to think on and analyze; the inclusion of a 26 minute album remix titled “Solstice (Album Mix)” proves that the project works as a holistic sonic adventure, with each song blending into the next beautifully. Any music fanatic that loves the brass tacks of production will have a field trip with this record…but it also succeeds at bringing good vibes as well. It’s simultaneously enjoyable on a surface level and a much deeper, reflective level. A perfect example of this is the second track, “One Truth:” while the bounce and whimsical nature of the track’s flutes evoke a peaceful state of mind, the electronic swells and whistle-centric outro grants nuance and energy to a pacifistic beginning.
Of course, the idea of “new” is something that is constant throughout the album. While the use of Asian percussion and woodwinds evoke traditional Eastern music (as well as Savej’s use of 432hz flutes to match the timing of Earth’s rotation), there is a sheen of modernity throughout that makes the record an electronic marvel. A particular standout of the mixture of old and new can be found on “Equinox,” a banger of global proportions that features a driving melody, lavish horns, and glitchy bursts of volume that remind me of Hudson Mohawke’s bombast, but with a calming twist. The mix is pristine, every chord engineered to create a banger that plays when you reach nirvana. In much the same way, Savej’s use of vocals throughout the album ring as simultaneously ancient and modern, as with the throat vocals on “Eye for an I.” Savej’s vocals here are clearly rooted in tradition, but his use of a hip-hop rhythm and cycling samples reminds me of the production JPEGMAFIA brings to the table…but Savej’s beats are more catchy, more graspable. He successfully navigates the worlds of the past and future, making a sound that is entirely his own in the process.
While Solstice is very experimental and foreign in places, the effort which Savej poured into the project truly shines in some truly spiritual passages sprinkled throughout the album. These songs, if I had to give them a description off of their ethos and production, can be classified as spiritual house. “Sirens” is gorgeous, balancing the use of soothing vocals, Asian rhythms, subtle strings, and a tightly knit electronic song structure to make a heavenly piece of electronic music; this is the kind of music I can envision Dr. Strange playing as he meditates and explores the infinite possibilities of the universe. The song is that colorful and extensive, always warping and evolving in a continuous metamorphosis. “Vilca,” the album’s closer, is much the same, using more throat singing, sitar, and a wailing flute to finally bring the album’s themes of spirituality and exploration to a close. While there is a lack of true blue “lyrics,” the message of the album can be found by reading between the lines of the instrumentals. This is a passion project that portrays the foreign as something familiar and beautiful, even if we may not understand it. Whether that foreign land is a far off country, or the spiritual awakening deep within us, it remains distant on the horizon, begging us to explore it.
To put it simply, I think Solstice is a wonderful record. It captures the nuances of traditional Asian and tribal music while updating those genres for an experimental electronic odyssey. Savej might just have crafted one of the best underground bass releases of the year; I encourage you to give it a spin in the whip, in your next yoga session, or your next deep dive into your psyche!
Essential Tracks: “Solstice,” “One Truth,” “Eye for an I,” “Sirens,” “Equinox”
Special thanks to Savej and Gravitas Recordings for sending us an early preview of this record! Give the record a listen below!
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