CC Sorensen makes music you have never heard before. I’m not speaking literally, as nearly every active recording artist has as-yet unrecorded ideas. What CC Sorensen creates is so oddly original that writers have had to become creative with genre names. “Frog Jazz” appears to be one that Sorensen has embraced. However, elements of ambient, noise, avant-garde, cyclical minimalism, and polyphony can’t be ignored when attempting to describe all that is fused together here. The liner notes for a previous release named Twin Mirror (featuring a frog on its cover) get it most succinctly with these three words: miniature sound worlds.
Phantom Rooms surrounds the idea of one’s home, a topic that was on Sorensen’s mind when they were in the process of relocating. Of course, the whole notion of home or wherever you hang your hat is entirely personal. When thinking about the universal traits of a home, one realizes that not everyone derives comfort from being home or thinking about home. For many, it’s a complicated relationship at best. “A house is something that is so deeply temporary, yet it can hold so much energy,” reads the first sentence of the album’s product description online.
Since we’re dealing with such contradictory ideas, why not take in some music that is meticulously organized but sounds chaotic? If you’re having difficulty wrapping your head around that, find a way to hear “White As Green” from Phantom Rooms and take in the seemingly ramshackle mix of sounds as they hang in a curious balance. There is no tempo, beat, or pulse, but all of the pieces play off one another in one grand piece of fortification.
Usually, when music is so startlingly new, it’s the product of a mash-up – blending two or more elements to create a unique style. We’ve all witnessed hip-hop crossing paths with rock, metal, and jazz or electronic music, giving a boost to all three and then some. But when CC Sorensen sets out to make music, even some of the elements themselves are downright alien. Glancing at the list of five guest musicians, you see familiar instruments like saxophone, chimes, and a drum kit. These are the exceptions. Most of the sounds come from Sorensen’s keyboard, which acts as a bottomless pit of unheard sounds, arranged in various ways that elude easy description. Even the human voice has a ring of the unfamiliar to it in Sorensen’s hands.
“Quantic Vision” begins Phantom Rooms with an electronic orchestra tuning up, a radiant introduction that sets the stage for “Beat Bot”. The grandeur of “Quantic Vision” is quickly swapped for absurdity, with Sorensen making robot sounds to match each intermittently-placed pitch as they land here, there, and everywhere seemingly at random for 70 seconds. Think of Jake Peralta mocking Captain Holt before he even meets him in the pilot episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Then we switch gears for “Ellis”, a profoundly atmospheric piece that plays with static and haunting, warbly voices. This must be the part of Phantom Rooms that reflects the bittersweet nature of leaving one’s heart in a former home because the intensity is just as palpable as the calm.
Strange as it may sound, the second half of Phantom Rooms is even odder. In five minutes, “Snake in Reverse” sounds like a beginning musician hammering out a scale on a harpsichord, a thin, reedy keyboard setting getting dragged through the digital muck, a drum circle where no one is keeping strict time, and a maelstrom of other unrecognizable noises colliding in mid-air. “Plastic Portals” can’t fully commit to the ambient style due in part to an oily melody line, high-pitched frequencies, and general atonality. If the saxophone is trying to vie for some attention in “Your Hammer Won’t Fall Apart”, it comes up relatively short in such a competitive mix with radiotronics, robotic voices, and other electronic noises that gargle and grind through the fog. “Bexar”, the album’s nine-minute closer, puts a very somber end to what is a very, objectively speaking, capricious and eclectic album. It’s not without its bit of strife, pitting even more tension against Sorensen’s brand of serenity.
CC Sorensen has been chipping away at their brand of skewed electronic music for at least four years, developing their early interest in field recordings into something far more strange and creative than most DIY electronic musicians who litter the Bandcamp landscape. Nothing against the proliferation of those expanding their sonic palettes with keyboards, but they cannot hope to stand out the way CC Sorensen does. Strange elements in your music are one thing; fundamentally strange music is quite another.