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Son Raw says the game ain’t the same with Pa Salieu locked up.
The numbing predictability of our current age’s vibes-based, playlist-centric approach to music is killing creativity. When tracks are dissected by an algorithm, broken down into component parts and dutifully slotted into the best fitting “mood,” musicians are incentivized to stick to the script, maximizing engagement and minimizing the risk that a song or album might confuse its digital overlords. Thankfully, independent thought via independent music persists, but it’s harder than ever to find music that dares to explore uncharted territory, let alone reflect on its impact. All of which to say, that when iNi sent me Turbo Phantasy, I had no idea what labels, playlists or editors might be interested, but I immediately wanted to write about its blend of the organic and synthetic, and its simultaneous love for and defiance of conventional song structure.
iNi is Frederic Chicoine, a Montreal-based engineer and multi-instrumentalist with a surfeit of ideas and, after a time working in dance music’s scene-centric underground, little patience for industry gladhanding (full disclosure: Chicoine has engineered several of my own releases). With that in mind, Turbo Phantasy is a conscious effort to break the rules on the way to transcendence, a record unafraid to collide cosmic guitar solos with 808s, Yeezus-era vocal manipulations, classic Japanese game soundtracks, glitchy IDM, or Yacht funk chill. On paper, that might read like yet another hyperpop record with too many ideas. But a quick listen reveals the exact opposite: a patient album of considered if unlikely collisions, where stylistic contrasts aren’t tossed off jokes, but careful inquiries into how disparate concepts can work together.
In other words, it’s the sort of album where a cheekily titled guitar piece (“More than Strings”) can seamlessly transition into the PS2 horror game loading screen ambient of “Safe Room 512,” without ever feeling jarring or forced. Later, alongside album co-pilot WAVY SINES, the mix of styles gets even harder to nail down – as piano jazz chords meet the kind of adventurous drum programming best learned in the rave, without the results veering towards the aggravating or soporific.
It’s a tough balance to maintain: relaxed enough for background listening, engaging enough to focus on, while stuffing the maximum number of ideas into roughly three minutes of runtime per song. I’m personally reminded of the best of mid 2010’s bass Music, but I have no doubt Guitar World readers could enjoy Turbo Phantasy just as much, even with a completely different set of references. In any case, they’ll definitely get a kick out of the project’s promo video, which toes Zappa-esque line between seriousness and goofball humor.
Undergirding the album is a deep sense of nostalgia for the imaginary future of old 32-bit console games and millennial adolescence – this is a record that name drops both Final Fantasy VII’s White Materia and Super Mario Bros’ warp zones. But while lo-fi hip hop radio beats to relax/study-core treats nostalgia like a blunt instrument to hammer home a single idea, Turbo Phantasy dares to use the cultural detritus of our digital pasts to imagine a new, better future – and hopefully one where our listening doesn’t quite fit into a single box.