Music

GS Sultan's 'Music for a Living Water' Is a Meditative Love Letter to Liquid

Photo: Maggie Shannon / Courtesy of Orange Milk Records

Electronic composer GS Sultan's Music for a Living Water is experimental but also warm and highly accessible.

Music For a Living Water
GS Sultan

Orange Milk Records

17 July 2020

Electronic music has its share of detractors, and many of them complain that the format is overly cold and clinical. Some composers, like GS Sultan, are the antithesis of this thinking. While his music is based on synthesizers, MIDI, and generative digital sequencers, it's tempered with an inviting warmth that can even make you forget you're listening to computer programming. This has never been more true than with the release of his latest album, Music for a Living Water.

GS Sultan, the moniker of Los Angeles-based artist Roy Werner, has been crafting his unique brand of wobbly, synthetic weirdness over the course of several albums -- including Jeremy, Qeba, and Redundancy Suite -- on a variety of labels. However, the Ohio-based Orange Milk Records seems to be a fitting home for his lovingly oddball works. With Music for a Living Water, Werner has made an electronic album devoted to liquid. Of course, it would be too on-the-nose to include samples of streams, waterfalls, and crashing ocean waves on every track. Werner prefers to pay tribute in subtler ways; the tracks include sounds that lend themselves to sustained notes that create something of a gentle flow.

Make no mistake, while the music has calming accessibility, Werner isn't above incorporating sounds that can seem initially jarring or out-of-place. But it's like dipping your body into a swimming pool or ocean. Eventually, you'll get used to the temperature and won't want to get out. "Expression Vael", the album's calming opener, does, in fact, include a sample of a water stream running through the track, with the addition of what sounds like birds flitting above the water's surface. A calming mallet percussion melody dances over ethereal synth chords, creating one of the album's more ambient moments, even when disembodied vocalizing makes its first of several appearances.

Despite the calming, ambient vibe of much of the album, Werner offers up plenty of rough edges, such as on "Nightblind in Two Steps", which marries odd, idiosyncratic, and difficult-to-decipher narration with percussive twitches. "Pomello Serape" stumbles along an unusually metered tempo as distant, soulful vocals and handclaps break through the surface. The effect is unsettling in that the sounds may be familiar in separate musical contexts, but combined in one track, they seem like fragments of many different dreams.

Werner often combines a sparse sonic palette with comforting samples, such as on the gorgeous "Ulloa". The sound of passing cars throughout the track reminds the listener of the real world, but the gentle keyboard melody is tempered with static squelches that seem alien and somewhat foreboding. There's also more indecipherable narration, but it's delivered in a calming manner that seems to suggest a reassuring guide through the music's complex and unfamiliar maze.

Closing out the album is "Melody for Sleepdog", which includes a mesmerizing kalimba melody that competes with a sample of what sounds like static searching for a signal. A variety of vocal lines are added, and eventually, Werner has created a unique combination of sounds that may seem incompatible and idiosyncratic when described. But, strangely enough, it works. That's the trick Roy Werner, aka GS Sultan, has pulled off all over this weird, warm, utterly beguiling album: he's combined a positively insane mix of samples, patches, and melodies and managed to sculpt it into a remarkably consistent and oddly lovable collection of songs.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

Zadie Smith's 'Intimations' Essays Pandemic With Erudite Wit and Compassion

Zadie Smith's Intimations is an essay collection of gleaming, wry, and crisp prose that wears its erudition lightly but takes flight on both everyday and lofty matters.

Music

Phil Elverum Sings His Memoir on 'Microphones in 2020'

On his first studio album under the Microphones moniker since 2003, Phil Elverum shows he has been recording the same song since he was a teenager in the mid-1990s. Microphones in 2020 might be his apex as a songwriter.

Music

Washed Out's 'Purple Noon' Supplies Reassurance and Comfort

Washed Out's Purple Noon makes an argument against cynicism simply by existing and sounding as good as it does.

Music

'Eight Gates' Is Jason Molina's Stark, Haunting, Posthumous Artistic Statement

The ten songs on Eight Gates from the late Jason Molina are fascinating, despite – or perhaps because of – their raw, unfinished feel.

Film

Apocalypse '45 Uses Gloriously Restored Footage to Reveal the Ugliest Side of Our Nature

Erik Nelson's gorgeously restored Pacific War color footage in Apocalypse '45 makes a dramatic backdrop for his revealing interviews with veterans who survived the brutality of "a war without mercy".

Music

12 Brilliant Recent Jazz Albums That Shouldn't Be Missed

There is so much wonderful creative music these days that even an apartment-bound critic misses too much of it. Here is jazz from the last 18 months that shouldn't be missed.

Music

Blues Legend Bobby Rush Reinvigorates the Classic "Dust My Broom" (premiere)

Still going strong at 86, blues legend Bobby Rush presents "Dust My Broom" from an upcoming salute to Mississippi blues history, Rawer Than Raw, rendered in his inimitable style.

Music

Folk Rock's the Brevet Give a Glimmer of Hope With "Blue Coast" (premiere)

Dreamy bits of sunshine find their way through the clouds of dreams dashed and lives on the brink of despair on "Blue Coast" from soulful rockers the Brevet.

Music

Michael McArthur's "How to Fall in Love" Isn't a Roadmap (premiere)

In tune with classic 1970s folk, Michael McArthur weaves a spellbinding tale of personal growth and hope for the future with "How to Fall in Love".

Film

Greta Gerwig's Adaptation of Loneliness in Louisa May Alcott's 'Little Women'

Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's classic novel Little Women strays from the dominating theme of existential loneliness.

Music

The Band's Discontented Third LP, 1970's 'Stage Fright', Represented a World Braving Calamity

Released 50 years ago this month, the Band's Stage Fright remains a marker of cultural unrest not yet remedied.

Music

Natalie Schlabs Starts Living the Lifetime Dream With "That Early Love" (premiere + interview)

Unleashing the power of love with a new single and music video premiere, Natalie Schlabs is hoping to spread the word while letting her striking voice be heard ahead of Don't Look Too Close, the full-length album she will release in October.

Music

Rufus Wainwright Makes a Welcome Return to Pop with 'Unfollow the Rules'

Rufus Wainwright has done Judy Garland, Shakespeare, and opera, so now it's time for Rufus to rediscover Rufus on Unfollow the Rules.

Music

Jazz's Denny Zeitlin and Trio Get Adventurous on 'Live at Mezzrow'

West Coast pianist Denny Zeitlin creates a classic and adventurous live set with his long-standing trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson on Live at Mezzrow.

Film

The Inescapable Violence in Netflix's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Fernando Frías de la Parra's I'm No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui) is part of a growing body of Latin American social realist films that show how creativity can serve a means of survival in tough circumstances.

Music

Arlo McKinley's Confessional Country/Folk Is Superb on 'Die Midwestern'

Country/folk singer-songwriter Arlo McKinley's debut Die Midwestern marries painful honesty with solid melodies and strong arrangements.

Music

Viserra Combine Guitar Heroics and Female Vocals on 'Siren Star'

If you ever thought 2000s hard rock needed more guitar leads and solos, Viserra have you covered with Siren Star.

Music

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts Honor Their Favorite Songs With "Oh No" (premiere)

Ryan Hamilton's "Oh No" features guest vocals from Kay Hanley of Letters to Cleo, and appears on Nowhere to Go But Everywhere out 18 September.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.