Strong Alcohol February 29, 2020

It was summer 2016, and aphrodisiac was intoxicating. I had an EP out, I was excited, people liked it, it was on Spotify…it felt like I finally had the tools to go out and do this music thing. I didn’t feel I was where I wanted to be yet, especially not without real instruments, but that’d all come in time. This aphrodisiac thing was its own can of worms, and I wanted every last worm out of that can and in people’s ears. Or something.

Four tracks and four months later, and aphrodisiac went silent. Nothing. No new music, no new releases, not even any interest from the badger boy behind it. How could this happen to me?

Blame nerves, equipment failures, and boredom, mostly. It’s been a rocky four years since then for aphrodisiac, and the journey can largely be divided up into four sections: failed follow-up #1, failed follow-up #2, In Free Fall, and where I stand today. There’s a lot of bottoming out to do, so let’s go prone already.

Failed Follow-Up #1: This Nadir

Apologies to the Disco Jellyfish, by Caby
Disco jellyfish!

The first couple songs for a Basements follow-up came not long after it came out. The plan was to make another EP to further flesh out the sound of the project, and then an LP afterwards as my official debut.

You might wonder where, throughout all the real-world hype, throughout my friends joking around about my “new mixtape” and snagging copies of it and making me feel genuinely good about something I made, prengle and Brianna come into it all. The answer? They really don’t. In all my searching through chatlogs, the most Brianna gave a fuck about “aphrodisiacs” is when she was trying to fuck one of my characters. And prengle didn’t give a shit about anything, so I really was on my own as far as the music went. It almost certainly didn’t help with the nerves.

Nevertheless, over that summer and into the next fall, I got to work on EP #2, This Nadir, whose name I don’t remember the origin of. I never had formalized cover art for it, so for the Neocities “release”, I just used a blue-tinted blurry photo of my friend Logan (Taywen as he appears around Somnolescent at times) standing around at a school fair with a teacher we had who inexplicably looked like rwhitegoose.

All four of the songs I completed later made it onto In Free Fall with mix tweaks and occasionally new parts written. Here’s the lowdown.

“This Nadir”

It’s relatively common practice for indie artists to sample the robotic chatter of numbers stations, but I like to think I’m the first to sample a polytone station. This one’s melody comes from The Conet Project disc two, track 39, “High Pitch Polytone”, which I thought was just sad and creepy enough to nick as the basis for a song. It’s also got the only recording (okay, loop) of me behind a real drumkit to date. I think I’m the only one who really likes this song, but that’s okay. Neat sounds.

“Apologies to the Disco Jellyfish”

Conversely, everyone fuckin’ adores this song. Caby even drew something neat to it. The name comes from the fact that it accidentally came out sounding a lot like “Stadium Rave A”, or as ya probably know it, SpongeBob’s “Jellyfish Jam”. This one saw me opening up to other patches and drum machines, in particular the Neon drum machine, which has a very indie, almost electroclash sound to it. Another candidate for the BladeVerb treatment.

“Looking Up”

I’ve long had a weird, begrudging respect for and fascination with ambient music, even though I find a lot of it really tedious. I think good ambient sound design can massively enhance a track; “vibes” as my Caby would put it. This was a challenge to myself to build a track using no percussion and no strong structure, only drones. I also wanted to avoid a lot of the “wind noise” you hear in ambient tracks. It was a lot of fun to put together, even if the end result is a little basic.

“Ghostgrove Point” (no “At” just yet)

Ghostgrove Point is a location in Elinar, not far from Blackrose (which is in Martiveil real close to the Efrenish border). I think this was another track that came out in a matter of hours. I remember it being a rather rainy, dark evening, Brianna being missing and no one else home, and I was goofing around on an F# major scale and being a little nervous about her, as I was wont to do. I was always really into the outro because I’d just sat down and improvised it, which was a real first for me at the time. The lack of “performance” in aphrodisiac has always bothered me, so I try to get it in anywhere I can nowadays.

I don’t know why I didn’t release This Nadir. I think I was waiting on another track or two that never came as the nerves started to roll back in. By the time 2017 rolled around, I was already onto the Elinar stuff, and then VDU in the latter half of the year. Music would just have to wait.

Meanwhile, the tracks followed me onto Neocities as I looked for material to stock my music pages with. As I got comfy with Caby in mid-2018, she started encouraging me to get back into it, and come that winter, as a rush of inspiration came over me, it seemed like it was finally about to happen. Not for This Nadir, mind you, but for a brand-new full-length of material under the aphrodisiac name: Isolated Together.

Failed Follow-Up #2: Isolated Together

(To be clear, Isolated Together is still an idea and concept I’d like to return to. Only this attempt of it can really be considered “failed”, I guess.)

Isolated Together cover

With all the excitement and magic surrounding Somnol’s rebirth, I decided to take people up on their encouragement and pursue music again. While I’d been inactive since late 2016, I knew what I did and didn’t like about Basements after all that time and sought not to repeat the same mistakes. I knew I wanted the sound to be half that traditional elephant stampede stuff in the vein of “Ventolin” or “Disco Jellyfish” and half of it to be the pretty, ambient, vibey breathy stuff like “Ghostgrove”.

The name? Isolated Together. (Well, originally it was Slappin’ Tunes for Slappin’ Troons, and for that, I blame Neo. Catchy and hilarious as it was, not sure it would’ve flown in the age where everyone’s constantly uppity about stupid shit.) Remember that, at the time, the exit of three prominent Neocities users made a bit of a stir, for better or for worse. People constantly betting Somnol would be gone in three months, despite the name having been around for five years at that point, wore on us. (And it’s been a year-and-a-half since then, so you tell me.) The feeling of wanting to be left alone was strong.

The now-lost “Abduction” from the original version of Isolated Together

What followed was honestly one of the most legendarily creative times in my entire musical journey. Back in the Here Come Monsters days, I’d take months on and off to write a song, but now? I had five of them in two-and-a-half weeks. And they were varied too! One of them was an ambient piece that absolutely crushed “Looking Up”, one sampled the Folk Implosion and Deagle Nation in the same song, another had an epic beat switchup that totally reframed everything the song was up to at that point, and “Ghostgrove” got a reprise. Every time, I’d finish up a track and think “fuck, this is the best one yet!” From my phlog at the time:

Never a dull day around here, especially not when I have songs to finish! New one over in the demos section of my Gopherhole, called “Abduction”. It’s unlike anything I’ve done so far, a big, long, fucked up drone piece that’ll serve as the mid-album respite from the heavy drums and exquisite songwriting on display so far.

Slappin’ Tunes for Slappin’ Troons will be the name of the new album. Hopefully out soon. I still have a few tracks to write for it, but it’s gonna slap. It fuckin’ will. (The name, like everything else about this album, is merely for amusement. You probably shouldn’t slap troons, but if you do, I’ll probably laugh, so fair game.)

Of course, this bit of manic creativity would soon turn into a lesson in why backups are important.

Now, the computer I was writing these tracks on, a modern retina iMac with a “Fusion Drive” (that is, a hard drive and an SSD fused together in software with the latter acting as cache essentially), was not the one I was keeping with me between college and home. In fact, it was pulling double duty as a server, and I wasn’t keeping any backups whatsoever at the time. You might be able to tell where this is going.

I SSH’ed into it one morning only to find the thing wasn’t responding. Turns out, something (my best guess is a power failure) had torched the hard drive’s partition table, leaving the data technically intact, but with no good way to access it. Complicating matters, since both were fused in software, if something fucked up the SSD, all the data would be lost. I wrote about it in the “How a Fusion Drive Ate Our Gopher” post on Letters From Somnolescent. Long story short, the project files for Isolated Together no longer exist. This drive failure also took down my music library and many of the full-sized assets for Various Murky Basements.

Needless to say, having lost five of what I felt were my best tracks didn’t inspire me to keep going. You might be asking why I call them “lost” if the renders exist, and the answer is that they’re MP3s and therefore unusable. I had uncompressed AIFF renders of the tracks…on the same fucking drive as the projects. As a result, I’d really just be best off rerecording them, and given that these are sequenced and not actually played live (as much as that’s starting to shift), I’d have to relearn them by ear.

In Free Fall

The only reason the Basements-era projects survived was because they were on the machine I was taking to college, a much older (and more solid) 2014 iMac that continues to be my daily driver. After This Nadir didn’t pan out, I thought the best thing to do would be to take those tracks and Basements‘ tracks, get them both sounding like they belong together, and have that be my debut album. I’ve wanted to do this for a long while, but Brianna dissuaded me from doing so.

A playlist of Various Murky Basements and This Nadir tracks
I started with a playlist combining the two EPs, trying to figure out an order in which everything sounded correct in.

Though it didn’t have all of the sounds I was using on the Isolated Together tracks, the version of GarageBand on my 2014 iMac was still far newer than what I originally used to put the tracks together, and I was ready to use the thing to its fullest potential. Of note:

  • When I started, I used to just layer sounds instead of trying to sculpt them, and it lead to a lot of very swamped, very muddy mixes. This is especially audible in “A Crush of Bodies”; the Basements version (“A Membrane’s Virtuous Sky”) is bass-heavy, dull, and the drums barely pop out of the mix. Clearing out a few of the patches, adding in a Neon for punch, and rewriting the bridge to act more as a “bridge” rather than just quiet to make the final chorus crash in more gave this one new air and life.
  • Some of the songs got new instrument parts to make them a little less repetitive. “Disco Jellyfish”, “Ghostgrove”, and notably “Kaden” had bridges, outros, and verses changed up for flavor.
  • “Chimerical” was a track from Here Come Monsters I always liked and was working on a remix of long before In Free Fall came out. I brought it back here with a new arrangement and mix that I think is a bit much, really. I prefer the original. I do think the “slowly distorting beyond belief” thing in the outro is cool, but I just took that from My Vitriol.
  • “Mind Left for Seattle” was left off because it didn’t flow right anywhere in the tracklist and I couldn’t really improve any on the original version of it. Knowing now that the track really wasn’t significantly more popular than any of my others has made me less regretful of this, but only a little.
  • “Kaden” was special because the guy whose voice is over it is special. In what I can only guess was a weirdly scripted attempt to guilt and threaten me, prengle sent me a voicemail in late February 2018 with…well, listen to the track. The scary thing is, aside from cutting out my dox and one little bit towards the end? It fit “Caleb” perfectly. Rewriting the outro to make it even more NIN-y lead to the perfect conclusion of what an album called In Free Fall should sound like: genuinely unhinged, retarded rambling and nasty picked basses in a swirling din sent tumbling to the floor.
In Free Fall's unedited cover photo
In Free Fall’s unedited cover photo

After previewing mixes for a few weeks after the fact, every night walking around campus with a bunch of new renders and really trying to get it sounding right on everything I could, In Free Fall was sent out to distribution and posted to my site on April 1, 2019. No CDs were made. I didn’t send it out anywhere. I did make music videos of sorts out of the old Windows Media Player visualizations and they got posted to YouTube in August of that year.

In general though, the feeling after it came out was less “hell yeah” and more “well, at least it’s all neat and tidy now”. It was almost as if it was a consolation prize for having lost the Isolated Together tracks, stuff I’ve already done rather than new tracks for everyone to obsess over. This was all by design, yes, but In Free Fall still passed without much fanfare. I certainly didn’t think too much of it. I was too focused on Caby and on my streams and on Pennyverse. It was a necessary release, not a bold new frontier for me.

I dunno, something a little sad about it, I guess. Still, better late than never, and if someone was gonna listen to all these old tracks, this is how I’d prefer them to, really.

The future of aphrodisiac

In Free Fall was April 2019. I haven’t been thinking of much of aphrodisiac since then. The most musical I’ve gotten, aside from screwing around with open chords on the guitar borb gave me, has been the mtlx tracks. As those slowly trickle out and as I slowly develop as a performer and a musician, it gets me thinking of the future for this old, clanky project of mine.

Another glitchpic from a Nikon D50
Another one of the bugged out shots from the Basements cover photo shoot

You see, after Basements came out and it all took on a life of its own, I thought I might keep aphrodisiac around as my own little eternal solo thing, an experiment in minimalist songwriting using only a free DAW and a cheap keyboard. As my teens turn into my twenties though, and as the ideas I intended for the thing pile up and remain unused, I figure it’s time to clear out my head and shutter the project.

And really, that’s a good thing. My life was a whole lot different when I started work on Here Come Monsters back five entire years ago. I was a much different person. I wasn’t sure what my life would look like, other than that, well, I’d make stuff. Right now, I’m facing a scenario where, rather than being jealous of all those guitarists and singers, being able to make the rock music, I’m gonna be able to do that myself. I’m not stuck trying to make a facsimile of the music I like forever.

Plus, my tastes just kinda shift as time goes along. I don’t really listen to Big Black or Shellac anymore. Noise rock is still cool and all, but I’ve been more interested in subtler, more organic music as of late. Earlimart is who I try to emulate now–except now, I have the equipment to match.

I still do like the setup though, and as time goes on, I’m using it to experiment more, solo more, improvise more. With aphrodisiac, I always got this icky “I didn’t really play this” feeling after I finished a song because they were all pretty much drawn out in a piano roll editor, not performed. Aside from maybe “Ghostgrove”, I couldn’t perform an aphrodisiac song for you because I just don’t know them like that.

With mtlx though, so much of what I’ve come up with has come from jams, from noodling, bits played right on that keyboard. It feels more like something I recorded rather than something I sequenced. Not to mention, I just think the sound fits the setup better. Ambient electronica is doable. Rock music is less so.

A side frustration is that, despite the fact that I thought I was the first one clever enough to use the name aphrodisiac, there’s actually a few different projects on Spotify under that name going back to 1990 or so. As you can well imagine, it’s a little confusing and irritating trying to point people towards my stuff and have them instead listening to some Swedish dark ambient project, or fuck, even some 90s deep house tracks.

mon being confused as to what aphrodisiac tracks on Spotify are even mine
Poor mon.

I still think there’s one more aphrodisiac record in me. A proper send-off composed entirely of new material. A culmination of everything aphrodisiac’s been building up to.

So here’s the plan now: at some point, that record’s getting made. I want it to be as free-flowing as these mtlx songs have been. Sitting down, having fun, painting with sounds, and then totally rebuilding each song from the ground up so they’re the best they can be. I’d also like to put out a “rarities” disc of sorts, because there’s a few quirky experiments and songs I’ve done over the past few years that simply never made it onto any of the records that might symbolize what aphrodisiac was more than the actual records I put out.

That’s all I have for the aphrodisiac miniseries, really. It accompanied me through the first real steps I took into being a musician, and for that, I’ll always be fond of it. Maybe someone down the road will ask me where I started making music, and I’ll have a small discography and a few blog posts to show them in kind.

A backroad
Nothing to do with aphrodisiac, just an old photo I rescued from an old iPod. I’m sure an aphrodisiac track or two originated from that thing, and certainly some samples.

Tags: aphrodisiac,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hosted by DreamHost. mini.css so gracefully developed by @Chalarangelo, bless em.