Dragontime: Dragontime
Inner Islands

Ki Oni: Elephas
Inner Islands

Two recent releases from Inner Islands speak highly on behalf of the Oakland, California-based label operated by Sean Conrad. As often seems to be the case with cassette releases, details about the artists involved and the works themselves are modest in number, the implication presumably being that the music is perfectly capable of speaking for itself.

First up is an eponymous set by Oakland outfit Dragontime that first appeared on Psychic Arts Records in 2012 as a CD-R release. On this thirty-six-minute collection, Kephera Moon (synthesizers, vocals) and Robin MacMillan (percussion, bass, guitar) deliver eight evocative samplings of ethereal songcraft. With opening moments suggestive of some lost track from Siouxsie & The Banshees' The Rapture, “Futures Past” sweetly blossoms into a pastoral synth reverie whose timeless woodland melancholy plays like some unearthed collaboration between Popol Vuh and Cluster with a bit of Autobahn-era Kraftwerk thrown in for good measure. With Moon's serenading vocals added to “Women & Children,” Dragontime turns into lullaby music, after which an organ-heavy riff on the traditional “Matty Groves” sees the group embracing a more innocent era. Elsewhere, “Sombra Sola” oozes a haunted, ‘50s-styled lounge vibe reminiscent of the brooding Wild At Heart soundtrack Angelo Badalamenti fashioned a number of years ago, and in a move that counters Dragontime's trippier side with something earthier, some songs are animated by tribal rhythms and percussion (near cassette's end, “Ride That Train” derives its momentum from a suitably locomotive shuffle). Sweet but not cloying, Dragontime's a charmer whose innocent pop songs go down easily.

Compared to Dragontime, Elephas, a twelve-track collection by Los Angeles act Ki Oni, is a radically different creature on stylistic grounds. It's a sample-heavy recording apparently inspired by “a resonance with Sumatran elephants” that's got more in common with swooning instrumental hip-hop than dreampop. Almost every one of the track titles on the forty-four-minute set references the outdoors, and sure enough the music exudes a warm breeziness emblematic of verdant tropical settings. Electric guitars, claps, wordless vocals, and crisp, bass-prodded beats build up humid atmospheres, and the tracks' grooves bump along with a relaxed swing that's pleasantly soothing. It's certainly easy to warm up to the sultry headnod of loop-based jams such as “FMLY,” “Mandopop,” and “Tree Trunks,” even if they do sometimes threaten to become overly repetitious. Elephas isn't one-dimensional, however: with their beat patterns nodding in the directions of trap and footwork, “Mantanga (Elephant Sport)” and “Great Deku Tree” reveal that Ki Oni isn't operating in a vacuum and unaware of current trends, while “Sumatran Coffee” receives a caffeinated jolt from stabbing guitar lines. One might best think of Elephas as an excellent soundtrack for the extended road trip, be it one undertaken during the warm afternoon hours or the long cool night with the top down and the stars twinkling above.

September 2015