Sublimation

by Matthew Dotson

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about

Crawford Philleo from Tiny Mix Tapes:

"It seems like it’s been a decade since I first looked at the music of Matthew Dotson for the Cerberus section of Tiny Mix Tapes. In fact, the amount of time that has passed is really only about a year, but to Dotson that might as well be a light year – what a turn-over/around/under for this now-LA based musician. The Dotson-isms I came to know and love from his self-released Excavation cassette are still recognizable here, but he’s thrust his shape-shifting rhythms, elegant explorations of the stereo field, flirtations with tonality-intonalities and breakneck editing into the world of the Vapor – a new set of audio-pigments with which Dotson paints swift strokes on his own unique canvas. Neon beats bubble up to the surface from under washes of ambient synths and time-warped pop samples, only to be cut up with hyperactive hand claps and sliced with shards of white noise. Intermittent sections of soft, twinkling piano melodies drift by like a cloud. Tempos glide from gobs of slow-mo bass to swift, galloping trots only to dissolve and melt themselves back into beatific balladry. To be short about it, nothing makes much sense although at the same time it all coalesces like magic, a mix concocted by Merlin himself. The rules and regulations of the regular are here, but pushed to their limits, Dotson bursting through musical shackles in exciting new ways that will prick the circuitry of your brain with little electric shocks of intrigue. And a lot of it is also downright beautiful. Miles ahead of his contemporaries (if there are such things), and maybe even miles ahead of his own damn self… Here’s hoping Dotson doesn’t end up running his work off the side of a cliff, only to fall into a pit of oblivion. This is just manageable – barely and perfectly so."


Marcus Rubio from Tiny Mix Tapes:

"In psychology, sublimation is the process through which socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations are consciously transformed into socially acceptable actions or behavior, possibly resulting in a long-term conversion of the initial impulse. The music of Matthew Dotson is largely concerned with how this process can play out sonically and creates a logical new form of vaporwave in the process. Like most vaporwave, Dotson’s music is based on samples of leftover musical schmaltz that are then processed and blurred but instead of the simple chopping, screwing, and looping that usually takes place, Dotson goes a step further by collaging and blurring his sound sources into stunning slabs of danceable musique concrète. This process on Sublimation’s is gradual. The record’s first side still retains some referential familiarity with slowed down beats and voices rising out of ambient noise. However, as the album progresses, Dotson begins to further process/stretch his sources until they become almost entirely unrecognizable. The second side of Sublimation in particular is a masterpiece of forward looking sample music that takes the recent work of Wakesleep to the next level by collaging and processing various bits of chopped and screwed cultural ephemera into miniature suites of acousmatic bliss. Throughout, Sublimation uses the process of its title to create a whole new style of process based electronic music that blurs the line between the simplicity of vaporwave and the formal academicism of electroacoustic music."

James Catchpole from A Closer Listen:

"Matthew Dotson has a clear vision for the future of Vaporwave, a genre perpetually stuck in the past. It could be said that Vaporwave’s future is in its past – the genre is convinced that it’s already dead. Perhaps it was never really alive to start with, just a zombie incarnation that feeds on the decaying haze of the 1980′s, its ballads, padded beats and lost footage. 90′s culture has somehow preserved itself, living forever inside the music. The music progresses to the operating systems of Windows 95 and into the early 2000′s, swirling around the era like the Sega Dreamcast logo, but Vaporwave doesn’t really come any closer to the present day. Dotson’s mixing is excellent and ranges from crystal clear electronic sprinkles and sampled lyrics from forgotten songs. The music cuts through itself, sounding like interrupted lines that descend over a VHS tape that has accidentally recorded over the music with an afternoon weather report. Much like the genre, it corrodes in slow motion. Vaporwave is a lovely, nostalgic disconnect. It feels as if you’re travelling through another dimension, scribbled in the fading colour of an ancient television that still picks up repeats of Baywatch; a place of temperate climate, under clear skies."


Scott Scholz from Killed in Cars:

"I suspect that most music reviewers are aficionados of other good reviewers, and a big part of my musical news comes through some of my favorite creative music advocates/writers like “Strauss” at Tiny Mix Tapes/Cerberus. A little less than a year ago, I read his review of Matthew Dotson’s “Excavation,” and was intrigued enough to order the tape, which indeed lives up to its glowing review. Since then, Dotson has released a pair of cassettes through Chicago’s Already Dead Tapes, including the recent “Sublimation.”

Over the course of three tapes, Matthew Dotson’s music has moved increasingly toward the “vaporwave” movement, using fragments of muzak-y pop culture aural effluvium as sound sources, but the way he handles musical materials feels wholly different than most folks associated with vaporwave. At least in my cultural circles, I’ve heard vaporwave dismissed as a product of hastily-prolific hipster fine arts nonsense, and I’ve heard it lauded as a critique of corporate culture constructed from its own remnants. What these seemingly opposite camps have in common is a tendency to dissect the genre through literary, visual art, or sociopolitical lenses—it’s rarely discussed in musical terms. And frankly, a lot of vaporwave strikes my ears as vague, musically lackadaisical, or downright boring on strictly musical merits.

I find Dotson’s approach far more musically interesting than most vaporwavers, and I wasn’t surprised to find that he’s studied composition at the doctoral level. While this music can certainly abide discussion in terms of conceptual transformation or post-capitalist material repurposing, it also works as proficiently-composed music, balanced and varied and dynamic in all of the right places for a pure listening experience that doesn’t require extramusical apologetics.

And Dotson is really good at selecting names for his recordings: “Sublimation” in the Freudian sense is a perfect one-word description of the potential higher-order musical implications of vaporwave, taking vintage musical idioms mostly regarded as untoward or “lame” and re-using their raw materials toward a more transcendent whole. In contrast, the earlier “Excavation” tape really does feel like an excavation, unearthing deep cuts and exotic sources and bringing them into a musical light, and the first recording for Already Dead Tapes, “Revolution/Circumvention,” starts to flirt with the musical materials one associates with vaporwave without going all the way.

"Sublimation" is presented as 2 sides of audio, but the A-side feels like a 2-movement idea to me, while the B-side contains 6 shorter ideas that aren’t necessarily closely related. On the A-side, the first "movement" keeps percussion sounds going throughout, staying in a fairly narrow range of mid-tempo samples. While this kind of production has dance music/mixtape qualities, there’s a formal structure at work here that balances the piece: For example, the first fully-orchestrated set of materials that arise from some clean-sounding 80s guitar at the beginning of the side return around the 10:00 mark to constitute a sort of thematic restatement at its end. In between, my ears were drawn to how voice and guitar samples get recontextualized with a variety of very musical contrasts. There is a very simple guitar part, for example, one simple note that’s picked and followed by a downslide, that first appears atop a "chopped and screwed" (dramatically slowed down) rhythm bed, and it reappears later over a more real-time passage alongside a melodically moving synth line, turning the guitar into more of a harmonic pedal point mechanism than the kind of rhythmic accent role it had earlier. In terms of vocal fragments, Dotson seems to be drawing attention to the kinds of melodic shapes and exaggerated vibrato one finds at climactic moments in upbeat pop tunes while avoiding their original word content.

The shorter piece at the end of the A-side starts with a kind of ominous cinematic flourish and settles into an adagio pulse of synths and vocals for a couple of minutes, and then it becomes an uptempo rhythmic workout racing to the end, with almost industrial textures in the rhythms (though classic early techno synth-handclaps are there to remind you of previous origins). Finally, it settles into some very quieter chopped/screwed 80s balladry, followed by even softer recapitulation of some segments of the earlier cinematic-ish samples at the opening of the “movement.” This piece has an especially wide dynamic range that follows a classic dramatic arc.

I find myself musically more into the variety of ideas that make up the B-side. The first segment is a relatively short passage, taking some wind sounds and sustained synth-bell tones into a wickedly dense fog of distortion for a couple of haunting minutes. That’s followed by an almost 60s-ish section peeking through some phase and distortion effects, eventually settling into a kind of portatone percussion-meets-Art Bell-commercial-break-bassline, where a clavichord eventually steals the bass ostinato line away for itself. Skipping ahead, the last two sections are my favorite, with some reversed sounds, short percussion samples with tight delays, and a gentle synth/string figure that eventually dissolves into solo piano lines that are EQ’ed into a hushed oblivion at the end of the piece.

Already Dead makes very small editions of some tapes (50 in the case of “Sublimation”), so if you want to track this down, hit them up here or here as soon as you can. And be sure to check out Dotson’s Bandcamp page, too, as he still has copies of his self-released “Excavation” cassette available, a much-loved tape at Words on Sounds."


Ray Jackson from Already Dead Tapes:

“Matthew Dotson has always fit perfectly well with the Already Dead Tapes roster. With his electronic, noise and pop beats that range from all different types of diverse musical genres, Dotson portrays the sound of a musicians fueled by the idea to experiment.

Coming out from Los Angeles with two tracks, and loads of creativity and fun is ‘Sublimation’, the new album from Dotson. Starting with a sincere jingle, that captures the allure and charm of a poppy melodic dance track, the album then moves into a quiet build-up of classic 80′s dance beats. By the way, it’s got all the great snare drum sounds that make 80′s pop a distinct feel for music. The apparent seamlessness of each track moves into the epic slow ballad jams that takes your mind to any of the emotionally charged high school prom scenes characteristically portrayed by adults playing younger roles in modern day cinema.

There is certainly a joyous, celebratory, and even sexy mood presented on this album from Dotson, but while as side A ends with a nice, boppy 80′s dance beat, side B begins with a darkened whir, sounding like a vacuum breaking down what was just built. In maintaining the droning sound, the song continues into digitally enhanced tune, with metallic plucks and silver-toned harmonies. This side has more sass, using sampled blues licks and synthesizing them so much that in a way, it all sounds like a dark electronic noise/dance band. This heavily synthesized material is ‘must buy’ and a ‘must use for parties’. SO get the new album, “Sublimation” by Matthew Dotson on Already Dead Tapes.”

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released 18 February 2014

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