SAD PIANO – The First Sounds of “Final Ears”
Sad Piano “Final Ears” (Anyines, 2019) – Review by Macon Holt
The debut EP from Sad Piano, “Final Ears”, is a festival of digital delights but after that one drink, line or pill too many. There are moments on this record, particularly on the title track, that sound like the most atrociously cheesy MIDI jingles. But then, seconds later, these jingles are dragged through some kind of digital wood chipper. This both relieves you of the discomfort of the clichés and takes the music to somewhere much more exciting as these instrumental fragments evaporate into sonic sawdust, coalescing as something else, before returning to some kind of recontextualized recognizable music. These are the kind of musical journeys afforded to us now in these post-plunderphonics, post-vaporwave times. Journeys between a world saturated in late-capitalist clichés and the limits that these can be stretched to by the technologies that have made this world possible.
When I contacted the record label, Anyines, I was told the only information they had from the duo was that the “debut ep by SAD PIANO” was “crafted under extreme time constraints inspired by gamification and Olympic athletes.” I found this to be oddly soaked in irony but my interest was piqued. Anyines put me in touch with the composers/producers, Kristof Gasior and BBQurious, who fleshed out this enigmatic description. Apparently, the most literal interpretation of this description is the most accurate. This EP is the result of a gamified collaboration that took place over two months last summer. One would send some work-in-progress to the other with a challenge like “make a new theme for Who Wants to be a Millionaire” or “make something your daddy would be proud of”. Or they would work on the same track together, taking it in turns to work on it for one minute each, like a kind of musical circuit training, which would certainly need Olympian aural stamina. Sometimes the challenge would be to work on the track with the sound off, and just rely on instinct to navigate through the DAW.
They described their goal as wanting to make “music that’s equally challenging and entertaining. Something that’s very stupid and very “clever” at the same time.” And I’d say they have succeeded and not just sonically. The EP’s, release party on Fleaki’s Twitch stream, provided a perfect setting to express the combination of stupid and clever. During the stream, a neon pink lettered phrase, “Heidegger Gold Digger”, ambulated around the screen over a background of revolving, dislocated incidental video as the undulating chaos of the track “Webtress” played. Later, there are two messages strangely contrasting messages on the screen as the track “Tickled by the Riddlemaker” plays, “Don’t Do Drugs”, “Sorry, didn’t mean it”. At moments, the music sounds like the backing track to the overly technical menu screen of a JRPG. But as you laboriously navigate your cursor around the options, it keeps being knocked out of place by lumbering percussion at conspicuously consistent velocities. This is music about the joy of saturation in a world where meaning is hard to define and pleasure feels a lot like the exhaustion of overstimulation.
As the EP draws to a close with the pensive epic, “The Price of Loyalty” and melancholy reflections of “Blockchain Blues”, it becomes clearer why Sad Piano want to connect their work to the training of Olympic athletes. The EP may indeed have come out of a series of games but it’s a mistake not to consider the products of these games to be in some way serious. Or if not serious, at least in some way meaningful. As the last track skips and glitches through its descending reflective chord progression, like a server farm struggling to keep up with the demands of harvesting bitcoin but soldiering on regardless, we get a sense of the fragility of the connections that make a record like this possible. And with this, we get a glimpse of ourselves reflected in our good screens, reading a review drafted in Google Docs and hosted on a generic platform.
“Final Ears” was released on April 20th by Anyines.