(Inner Islands, 2015)
Ki Oni. Tree monster. Chuck Soo-Hoo. Whatever you want to call this guy, this producer, it’s on you. I won’t be held responsible. Me? I’m going to refer to him as Ki Oni. That’s what’s on the tape.
Elephas is Ki Oni’s tribute to the Sumatran elephant, which lives in the tropical forests of Borneo and Sumatra. According to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund, NOT the World Wrestling Federation, with which I’m always confusing it), the Sumatran elephant is critically fricking endangered, because we humans are a pestilence on this planet and do our damndest to destroy and consume without regard for other species or environments. Human beings are the worst, worst, WORST! There, now you’ve heard me from atop my soapbox, and I’m still quaking with anger a little bit, but I’ll try to get past it for the sake of the music. Because here, on Critical Masses, your go-to source for experimental (and otherwise) entertainment information, we’re all about the music. I’ll stop dreaming of stringing up every blunderbuss-wielding colonial by his neck for a moment and try to soak up some good vibes.
Which, fortunately, Elephas exhibits in spades. It’s lead track, “footprints from an elephant,” a fine introduction to such an album if you ask me, is sort of an instrumental Björk-lite electronic trifle, the music suggesting something so different than what its title conjures. There is no heaviness inherent in the music, no weight of the gentle beast in the mud. Instead, light as air, the beat and melody waft through your headspace. Ki Oni seems to suggest something completely different than physicality here – more a metaphysical interpretation of the elephant’s impact on its surroundings. Indeed, WWF again, the animals “feed on a variety of plants and deposit seeds wherever they go, contributing to a healthy forest ecosystem.” Compare this codependent practice with human behavior (there’s that Björk reference!): actions bent on acquiring plastics, heavy metals, and other dense materials through processes that absolutely wipe out fragile ecosystems like the Sumatran elephant’s.
That’s why Elephas works so remarkably well. It’s not heavy handed, yet it speaks to something necessary. It’s a vibe that gets into your blood and bones, and removes you from your modern surroundings with gentleness. Wisps you away, for example, on “autumn breeze,” another vaporous meander through Indonesian landscapes. The music recalls contemporary producers like Persona La Ave., or even Ki Oni’s Inner Islands labelmates Channelers. It’s hard not to be satisfied when Ki Oni responds to your tantrum-ic ultimatums of “Make me feel gorgeous!” with tracks like “tree trunks” and “rainbow tree” – and your ultimatums are earth-shakingly demanding. See? Human. Ki Oni is benevolent and kind in constrast.
It’s impossible to speak about this tape without acknowledging the amazing centerpiece “great deku tree,” a shimmering odyssey down rivers at dusk, and an awe-striking reminder of the natural beauty consistently shunned by modern society. It’s a call to reinvent the soul, and an indictment of the western spiral toward destruction. But it’s not angry – I’m angry, not the song – and it lifts me as a listener past the point of bitterness toward acceptance. Acceptance, yes, but also understanding that cycles will repeat and the earth will turn. But hey, let’s try not to kill anymore elephants on our way through this cycle, OK? Leave them, and their amazing habitat, alone. C’mon, Ki Oni’s Elephas tape, let’s go hang out somewhere where there’s no exhaust from passing automobiles.
RIYL: Persona La Ave., Monster Rally, Channelers