In his artistic statement, Euglossine (born Tristan Whitehill) writes of searching “for poetic correlations between contemporary domestic reality and historic technology”. Psaronius is not only the Greek translation of “precious stone”, it’s also the name of a prehistoric genus of tree-fern containing complex patterns that can be compared to present-day patterns. This conflation of ancient vegetation and modern technology is the basis for his latest album, released exclusively on cassette and digital download by Orange Milk Records. Like Euglossine’s most recent Orange Milk release, 2017’s Sharp Time, the instrumental journey on Psaronius is full of dizzying synthesizers mixed with more “standard” instrumentation. The result is like something from a dream, full of both innocent wonder and dizzying complexity.
Euglossine created Psaronius using wooden flutes, log drums, five-string bass, sequenced FM synthesis (whatever that is), iOS apps, and a vintage guitar synthesizer. What may seem on the surface like a challenging listen is actually surprisingly soothing, due in part to the frequent playfulness of the instruments’ interplay as well as open chords and jazz harmonies. It could almost be described as a group of aliens attempting jazz. It’s also a great deal of fun – picking apart the different synth lines and hearing analog instrumentation among the digital landscape practically begs for multiple headphone listening sessions.
The airy, whirling synths and flutes that open “Balloon 1995” make for a gentle, accommodating introduction. Broken into small parts, the song pauses a few times during its run time, almost as if to pace the listener. It also serves as a light warm-up for “Nightflowers at the Beach of Oblivion”, which is anchored by looming, whale-like synth notes that work well with the song’s lighter touches.
“Utah Teapot”, named after the famous 3D graphics test model, begins with breezy flourishes before a funky beat takes over, and the song is transformed into a strange, sparse dance track. If the sudden appearance of a standard time signature is Euglossine’s bid for mainstream acceptance, he does an immediate 180 with “Dryocampa Messenger Service”. It’s a song full of random bursts of electronic squalls, in addition to random beats that (thankfully) never quite coalesce into a song-length pulse. It feels like an updated version of Frank Zappa’s late-career Synclavier projects.
While it’s decidedly a state-of-the-art album, Psarionius contains a fair share of retro moments, including what sounds like cues from classic science fiction cinema. The tones and overall mood of a song like “Megaphyton”, for example, could almost be mistaken for an ambient aural backdrop from Blade Runner. But ever the restless artist, Euglossine, follows that up with a unique take on contemporary jazz in the form of “Carneros AVA” (named after the location in California where the Windows 95 stock desktop background was photographed, in keeping with the nature/technology concept). For anyone put off by the mere mention of “smooth jazz” – a reasonable gripe – Euglossine only touches on that subgenre for a few brief moments on Psaronius. The album is mostly cut from the cloth of ambient electronics and is way too adventurous to be confused with the John Tesh crowd.
As an artistic statement, Psaronius is bold and unique, very much what fans of Euglossine would expect from such an innovative artist. His music is a strange world, but one that feels right at home once you’ve explored it long enough.