There are times when words are sensory overload that complicates emotions rather than evokes them. While they can paint a picture of our experiences, words could be daunting to take in. With Gradients, 92elm sought to alleviate that pressure to examine by permitting us to feel. It’s palliative and airy, aiming to use its breezy Lo-Fi aesthetic to lift your mood the same way pilots use the wind for takeoff.
Known for his future bass sound backed by lush vocals, the Philadelphia producer often layers his vocals an octave lower when paired with the main vocalist. The result is a texture that is ethereal alongside dazzling instrumentation. Despite his song’s cheery nature, there are themes tied into the final product to feel for ourselves. On his last project, Patience, 92elm unwound from a slow, organic sound of fear to utilize both his voice and electronic elements more as he overcame them. It’s a reminder that time heals all but only when the effort is there.
His latest project, Gradients, departs from his usual sound, experimenting more with chill hip-hop elements to create a minimalist aesthetic. Composed of instrumentals, Gradients symbolizes the alluring glimmers of the sun to the dazzling sight of the moon with shades of orange and blue.
From start to finish, the sequencing of the album is intentional. A quick examination of the album cover hints at a day and night cycle. ‘Opal’ is misty and damped, with sharp sensory piercing synths role-playing mother nature. The percussion softly pelts the surface like a leaf falling off a branch: slow, meandering its way around the vast to reach the inevitable. It’s a consistent characteristic of the project. It is littered with percussion instruments from snares, high hats, maracas, glockenspiel, and more fusing to provide energy.
“Radiate” is a vaporous highlight of the EP that veers into the late morning. Its uplifting chords support the rest of the instrumentation to sail in the environment as if they are clouds. I especially admire how 92elm tucked the saxophone behind the softness of the drums. Its brightness pokes out ever so slightly to remind you of its presence. ‘Suncatcher”s foundation is slippery keys and drums looped together with synths popping in randomly to create an illusion of movement. True to its name, its slower tempo illustrates the joy of basking in the daylight.
The subtle transition from day to night makes the project feel evasive. By the time the outro track ‘Ripples’ comes on, you wonder where did all the time go as it’s already morning. It feels a tad cinematic and natural, birds acting as background singers as they chirp alongside pristine chords and staccato of the violins. Yet, the track does something I wish was more prevalent throughout Gradients. Halfway into the record, a robotic vocal mutters a melody, but its words are difficult to discern. What is being said is not significant compared to what it supplies. Its inclusion allows the elements around it to slyly relapse to the beginning, where the birds chirp again.
Is it a sign? Informing us how quickly the days go by as the next spears on ahead. A reminder to live in the moment and enjoy what’s around you. Perhaps this is 92elm continuing his attempt to comprehend the concept of time. In a world where BPM, bar counts, and patterns govern, producers are mathematicians who are able to turn numbers into notes. There could be many meanings or none at all, but what Gradients is anything but lingering.