Cheju: Foil.

Cheju: Shifting Focus

Electricwest: Drawing Plans for Delicate Evasion

Cheju (Boltfish co-owner Wil Bolton) spreads nine seamlessly crafted examples of melodic electronic music across Shifting Focus and Foil., two 3-inch CDs from Smallfish and U-Cover respectively. His material's soothing and jubilant mix of chiming keys, soothing strings, and blissful synth melodies goes down painlessly. Some might criticize Bolton 's tracks for being overly pretty, perhaps too sanitized, yet there's no denying their quality. They're also minimal but more in the sense of eschewing excess; in any given Cheju piece, each note counts and every layer matters. One could swim in the layers of synthesized strings coursing through “Blanchot,” they're so deep and lush. The song's ultra-pretty combination of strings and echoing keyboard chimes position it firmly within Isan territory. “Shutter” perpetuates the mood by layering a jubilantly chiming theme overtop a swelling stream of bass synths and snappy patterns of rimshots and kickdrums. A tad slower and more stately by comparison, “Maple” nurtures a melancholic mood amidst a rippling stream of pitter-pattering beats and snare slaps. In all likelihood, the release is already unavailable, given that it was issued in a mere run of 100 copies.

Foil. impresses even more for presenting a more ‘cinematic' range of sounds in its five pieces, a tendency clearly reflected in song titles like “Kokuho Rose.” The 3-inch collection is bolder in its sonic design, as attested to by the fluttering edits that enhance the funky and melodically infectious “Snood.” The cycling, four-note motifs that introduce “Foil” give the piece an exotic, far east character that nicely complements the crisp beat patterns that push it aggressively forward. “Particle Index” swims in murkier waters, and even works in surprising moments of dissonance alongside its billowing masses of synth streams. Denser than anything on Shifting Focus , pieces like “Foil” and “Particle Index” showcase the more expansive and dramatic sides of Cheju's material. Foil. is the noticeably more experimental of the two releases, and, at the risk of reading too much into an EP release, suggests an opening up of stylistic possibilities for Cheju 's future work.

By adding welcome grit and grime to Boltfish's typically pristine sonic aesthetic, Electricwest's (Pat Benolkin) Drawing Plans For Delicate Evasion expands the label's stylistic terrain even further. Not only are the album's tracks drenched in textures, there's a stronger hip-hop dimension in the songs' rhythms (clip-hop stylings of “Visiting Hour” and “Firefly Eyes” even hint at Dabrye). It's hardly a beat-based affair, however; instead, it's more ambient than Boltfish releases tend to be, and beats are included on most tracks as one element of many. Soothing melodies still unfurl with elegance at the music's core, but they're now embedded within a thick web of ambient detail; note, for example, how lusciously the bass drum's thud pierces the atmospheric haze and willowy melodies in “Wearing Thin Crimson.” Throughout the disc, Benolkin filters his material—the three beatless interludes especially—through a thick scrim of granular static. With its relatively cleaner production style, electric guitars, and clicking beats, “The North End” deviates from the album's general template—both the title and the ambient guitar style evokes Manual—though not displeasingly so, while voice samples provide a more concrete expression of atmosphere, romantic longing specifically, in “Today.” The thirteen-track collection is remarkably assured, and even more so for being Benolkin's Boltfish debut. (The enhanced CD also contains two Quicktime videos for the experimental interlude “Insavior” and “Pull the Drapes.”)

May 2007