Crate-Digging: Secret Colors – Confusion Control

Sit back and relax for this one.

(Debacle Records, 2011)

Debacle Records, bastion of chill, strikes again, this time with another woozy, blissed-out guitar-and-effects album from Seattle’s Matt Lawson, aka Secret Colors. Did you read that first sentence? Notice the words “chill,” “woozy,” “blissed-out”? Good. Then you know to expect a wonderfully downtempo chillwave/ambient set. And I haven’t even said the word “tropical” yet, and you know I will, because that vibe’s there too. So here I go: “tropical.”

You’re either lying down on a blanket or beach chair or strolling softly along the coast as Lawson massages your ears, or accidentally dribbles his pina colada on your back as he takes a sip. Gross, Matt. (Get a napkin, dude!) But seriously, don’t let that distract from your reverie – you can wipe it off or take a dip, either way, you’re good to go in like a minute. …Or in like “Minutes,” haha, am I right or what? Those ethereal keyboards rippling in pools just submerges you where you sit – you’re positively melting in it. And that guitar countermelody makes you dig your toes in the sand and feel its granularity as the sun bakes down. Oh gosh – what was I complaining about? Matt Lawson’s drool or something? Never mind.

That the majority of this record lands in this spectrum is no surprise, and to be honest, I completely envision dolphins at almost every turn. Not stupid, cool. Dolphins are cool. The only creatures smarter than man, and tranquil as … I dunno, what animal’s as tranquil as a dolphin? Anyway, you can see dolphins sometimes when you’re snorkeling, and it’s a good thing Confusion Control offers up a little beachside action – it’s not all sitting around you know – with, you guessed it, “Snorkeling.” Lawson hits us with some deep aquatic sounds, the aural equivalent of sunlight shimmering through clear ocean water to the wondrous reef below, the sound of water pressure and dull surroundings encasing you as you dive. Not into that, prefer the beach itself for exercise? Well, then “The Elephant” has the decency to stand up, stretch, and take a stroll, its laid-back rhythm buoying miniature guitar arpeggios.

To be honest, “Seafoam” and “Lime Green” are kind of the album’s, say, mascots or something, in that what goes through my head as I’m listening to Confusion Control, totally transfixed and relaxed, on the beach, or under the sea, is all in greens and blues, and these two songs’ titles embody that perfectly. (No matter that “Seafoam” kind of has an “Atmosphere”-esque chord build toward its ending – it’s not dark in the slightest.) “Lime Green” itself plays like a half-speed steel drum band without the steel drums, shuffling pleasantly by your beach chair, a perfect zoner for a cloudless day, and it lasts almost seven minutes, so it’s quite long enough for you to occupy its space. I’m telling you: tropical.

I like “More Orange” because it sounds like a magical garden somewhere in Final Fantasy VII, and it transitions perfectly into “Living Room,” which adds more syncopated rhythm, giving it an almost My Silver Booster–style minimalistic approach. Shut your eyes there, for a while, this time, on the couch of your hotel room, maybe, or on a hammock in the garden. The guitar mimics steel drums again, and you can hear them outside, through the wall.

Does this all sound way too sleepy? It is and it isn’t – it’s wonderfully peaceful (duh), but it’s certainly not boring. Lawson keeps the palette shifting subtly as he goes, and he’s no stranger to rhythm, as some ambient tropical artists are, nor does he settle into the abstract to the point of being off-putting. “Dream Labyrinths” is the only tune that throws me off a little – it seems like a half-baked practice jam over a minimal programmed Casio beat that doesn’t really coalesce. Not to mention the off-scale guitar notes mid-song – they sound like an accident, and maybe should have been edited. But I digress – and deep breath, smell that coconut suntan oil and order another mai tai or something, because it’s going to be a loooong afternoon.

RIYL: Ken Seeno, Mark McGuire, Jürgen Müller, My Silver Booster


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