And now for something completely different. If you’ve been paying attention to the world of electronics in any capacity, you know who Ninja Tune are. In case you don’t, they’re one of the best labels on the planet for any sort of style revolving around electronic music but mostly for things that have some sort of overlap with jazz, experimentation, and off-kilter delivery (here’s a taste: The Bug, Diplo, Bonobo, Forest Swords, Jaga Jazzist, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat and more and more). Skalpel‘s Highlight, released this year through the label, is all of that and more, a chillwave album that manages to be extremely interesting and engaging at the same time. At is core lies a sort of elongated but intense sort of beat, setting the ground for warm, encompassing synths, jazzy beats, and weird samples.
The result of that rarified mix is something you can let your mind wander to but which also opens up to deeper examination and listening. Check out “Cold Air” for example; the main beat languishes, drawing your perception outwards. In the space created, warm synths play a recurring series of notes while a sample of…something makes a sort of “woosh!” sound in the background every so often. The feeling is of a rich tapestry: you can choose to focus on the background created by the synths and the drums or to zoom in on a specific detail, like that sample or the cool way in which the track draws in on itself. Whichever you choose to lay your ears on, Skalpel are there, meeting you with much more than just a chill vibe. There’s musicality here, ideas to explore, twists and turns to go down, even if they are taken slow.
Right after this track you get “Quicksilver”, a decidedly faster track which still manages to sound chill by virtue of the tones used. This one has a chopped up, disconcerting vocal sample at its core that reminds us of the aforementioned Forest Swords. But it would be deceptively easy to focus just on that dominant sample; listen to the lush bass that’s operating in the background and what it’s doing in conjunction with the drums. They work together to create a basis on which the sample works, a basis you don’t have to pay attention to in order to feel its vibe but one where you can.
Once again, wherever you choose to go in the music, there Skalpel are, doing things with the basic sounds of their music that interest without being overpowering. That’s what makes Highlight so powerful. Play it if you need atmosphere, an enveloping background to a moment in life, or something that captures your attention with its dexterity and execution. It can do both equally well and that’s something very rare within these jazz-oriented but chillwave first sub-genres.