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Photay's New Electronic LP 'Waking Hours' Is About Taking Time Out

Photo: Landon Speers / Courtesy of Terrorbird Media

Electronic music of the sort that Photay creates doesn't typically have much to say lyrically, but on Waking Hours, Photay has a message, and he gives the human voice much more space than ever before.

Waking Hours

Mexican Summer

12 June 2020

New York City producer Evan Shornstein makes electronic music under the Photay moniker. He creates the type of electronic music that bounces from a deep bass groove to a squeaky, squishy beat to a bombastic superhero-theme-like-riff all in about 45 seconds of just one song. Some might call it IDM. Whatever you want to call it, Photay makes rhythmic, forward-looking electronic music that takes influences from all over the world and through all times and wraps it all up with a deeply felt love for tonality and texture. Electronic music like this typically does not have much to say lyrically but on his sophomore release Waking Hours, Photay has a message, and this time around he gives the human voice much more space than ever before.

Photay's debut full-length album was Onism, and it had a message too, but it was more symbolic than literal. "Onism" is a term that essentially represents the sorrow of not being able to experience everything all at once. A body is only one body, you see. There were some lyrics in the album, yet they didn't seem to be pushing the theme. It was the music pushing the message, as the songs were full to spilling over with a little bit of everything from disco and clicks and complicated polyrhythms and beeps and bursts and blooms and funk and even Bobby McFerrin's daughter Madison McFerrin with a heavily processed vocal take. Shornstein is technically only one body, but with Onism, he wanted Photay to be all over the world all at the same time.

Waking Hours has an altogether different theme: slowing down and just letting yourself just be. We live in a culture moving at light speed. Shornstein says, "This speed has felt normalized by our culture, our peers, our technology and our screens. Moving slowly, being still, doing nothing, spending time 'off the grid' feels like the highest form of rebellion." Photay broadcasts this message throughout the album in ways he rarely has before: with his voice and lyrics.

Of the ten songs here, Shornstein adorns half with voice and thematic lyrics. In "Warmth in the Coldest Acre", a gloriously processed chorus proclaims, "On and on you'll be set free. On and on, you'll see there's a peace." On "Rhythm Research", Shornstein gives the best vocal performance of his career as he turns in a David Byrne-esque yelp of "Multi-Tasking! You're so damn good at it! Several thousand things you've done so swimmingly! Put it down just for a second!"

There's irony here, though. Waking Hours is thematically about taking time out from the world. Yet, just like he did with Onism, Shornstein has made a record in love with everything the world has to offer. Photay cannot make quiet, simplistic music. He has too much love for the sounds made in this world. As much as Shornstein is presenting us with permission to slow down and appreciate the simplicity of life, his music shows us a person in love with the complexity of it all. How can you slow down when there's so much to hear, to see, to love? Still, it's a worthy reminder.


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