Channelers: Essex
Inner Islands

Softest: Six Wishes
Inner Islands

If ever the character of recordings matched the label name on which they appear, it's these latest cassette releases (limited editions of 100) from Oakland, California-based Inner Islands. That's only natural in the case of Channelers' Essex, given that Sean Conrad is both the musical producer behind the project as well as the label-runner. Having contributed field recordings to Braden McKenna's second Softest collection, Conrad had a hand in the creation of Six Wishes, too.

Fundamentally peaceful and calm in spirit, Conrad's second Channelers recording oozes serenity, never more appealingly than during the opener “Rest.” Its gentle synthetic swirls would sound right at home looping for hours on end at some California meditation centre, and it's hard to imagine any sentient creature being immune to the music's sensual allure. In contrast to its graceful, slow-motion drift, “Safe Space” lilts more buoyantly though no less entrancingly than the opener. Inhabiting a middle ground between the organic and the synthetic, “Safe Space” wends its light-hearted way through a path strewn with lulling guitar figures and creamy synth textures. Whilst retaining the soothing character of the recording's other tracks, “Passing My Heart Through the Place of Questions” distances itself from them in adding Conrad's hushed vocal murmur to the proceedings. Ultimately, regardless of the differences that differentiate one piece from another, Conrad's deep ambient recording is unified by its becalmed tone, and in that regard it makes some kind of perfect sense that its enveloping closer would be titled “Longing to Swim in the Realm of My Childhood Dream.”

McKenna's Softest set perpetuates the retiring spirit of Essex with six transporting dreamscapes of his own. Created from guitar, synthesizers, keyboards, samples, and field recordings, the six numerically titled settings evoke the soul-stirring serenity of a warm tropical setting as night falls and quiet sets in. Guitar strums and meandering organ patterns set the tone for the recording in “Wish I,” after which rain lightly falls alongside reverb-drenched guitar shadings during “Wish II” and the especially lovely “Wish V.” The Salt Lake City, Utah-based instrumentalist spins variations on his theme in the luscious meditations that follow, each of which mesmerizes in its own understated way. Changing things up, McKenna animates “Wish IV” with an insistent rhythm, resulting in a twinkling track whose expansive shimmer could pass for an homage to Wolfgang Voigt's Gas project. But in the long run it's the beautifully soothing sound of “Wish V” that most typifies the character of this sophomore Softest outing.

April 2016