In terms of content and assembly, Realistic‘s Drowned In Meaning is one of the best sample-based albums you will hear this year. James Towning has been doing this for over ten years, and he continues to explore the possibilities of sound and texture combinations. Drowned In Meaning (Blackmail Electronics) may or may not mean something, that’s for each listening to decide.
On the surface, it reminds me a bit of The Avalanches‘ Since I Left You in terms of sound collage. However, what I don’t hear on this album is a concept, continuity, or dialogue, which was one of the things that made Since I Left You an incredible piece of work. By saying this, it suggests that anyone who creates this type of musical sound collage is supposed to copy the same template, and Realistic does not. His choice of samples and sound sources are interesting, as he moves in and out of the obscure and mixes it with very well known samples. Then again, if you’re someone who released music through Illegal Art, then you might know of his approach. As one of the samples indicates, it is very much about “Pure Imagination”, but within that imagination are bursts of David Bowie, Queen, Yes, and The Temptations, as if he’s digging through his mind for nostalgic stories to tell, or trying to find the right channel during a long drive but never quite getting there. Maybe it’s a metaphor for our minds as a living and breathing radio station, at a time when most radio stations are dead.
As someone who makes similar sample-based music, there’s only one thing that is a downside, and it’s a minor one. He mixes soundscapes and textures and arranges it to where I’m focusing on those first, and yet some of his best collages are what’s going on in the background. If one was to arrange the songs differently, these could be on the level of the Chemical Brothers or RJD2, if Realistic wished to go down a more accessible route. By not being 100% accessible, it might keep him and his music in the shadows but maybe those are his intentions. With or without concept, continuity, or dialogue, Drowned In Meaning is much more than the clutter of the cover photo, but it’s up to the listener to get a broom and dustpan to see what treasures may be lurking underneath the muck of meaning.