Warm and blippy, “Unwise” floats in a gently pulsating womb of sound. There’s a ghostly wash in the background, a quivery layer of synthesizers in the middle, and a simple, gorgeous melody holding the piece together from the top. My ear at first was particularly drawn to the marimba-like synth that ambles its way into a recurring instrumental melody through the course of the introduction. In trying to follow its logic, I bumped into two aural peculiarities. First, there’s an actual guitar in here. Could be wrong about that, but there sure seems to be something scratchy-strummy going in in the middle of the mix. (After listening many different times I finally realized it’s most apparent right in the song’s opening seconds. Somehow I had missed that.) Second, for all the song’s rhythmic allure, there is little if any percussion. This is where electronic sounds can get so fascinatingly nebulous—that fine line between “beat” and “note” that we’ve been living with for the better part of 20 years. Somewhere in this song’s subtle pulse, sounds are rippling with percussive intent, but the amount of what might directly be called percussion is minimal.
Vocally, Josh Mease, the master mind behind Lapland, has borrowed from the Bon Iver school of whispery beauty, minus the claustrophobic edge of the excessively falsettoed. There is in fact a falsetto vocal line here but listen to how it dissolves into the upper end of the mix—as soon as you seek to nail it down, it seems almost to disappear in the woolly ambiance. The lyrics as well are mixed to dissolve upon reaching the ear; after the opening couplet—“I’ve been unwise/Fooled by your disguise”—the songwriter’s words seem subtly to float off into a kind of dream state. And note that this is the third song this week without a real chorus; here, we are hooked by the sturdy interaction of the two basic melody lines that alone support the entire enterprise. (The transition point, first heard at 1:00, is perhaps the song’s most prominent “moment.”)
Mease is a Houston-born, Brooklyn-based musician who put out a solo album in 2009 under his given name but here in 2013 reinvents himself as Lapland. The self-titled “debut” album arrives later this month on the artist-run Brooklyn label Hundred Pockets Records.
photo credit: Susan Pittard