- A tender ambient mix from two essential artists.
- In June, Warp celebrated their 30th anniversary with a takeover on NTS. Dozens of artists contributed mixes, amounting to a rich and diverse spread of music—Ryuichi Sakamoto rounded up some of his Warp favorites, Hudson Mohawke offered an hour of unreleased tunes and Danny Brown, ever the character, shared the hip-hop he rocks in his Tesla. But perhaps this collaborative mix from Kelela, the neo-soul artist, and Asmara, the DJ and producer formerly of Nguzunguzu, has the most personality and heart. Entitled Aquaphoria, it beautifully drifts through different styles of ambient music, topped off by Kelela's ethereal singing voice.
Aquaphoria is a tasteful and enchanting selection of deep listening music. It has its finger on the pulse of abstract electronic styles over the last few decades, pulling from Japanese new age, classic names like Aphex Twin and Biosphere, and innovators in today's ambient scene such as Visible Cloaks, Jonny Nash and Suzanne Kraft. No matter who made each track, though, it shares a quality of perfume. There are dreamy textures, soulful instruments and slow, vaporous transitions. Aquaphoria radiates a sense of beauty as quiet as it is powerful.
The mix starts off pure and serene, with glittering nature sounds on Takashi Kokubo's "01" and hypnotic, finger-plucked melodies on Susumu Yokota's "Hagoromo." Over time, though, bluer moods emerge. Aphex Twin's "Untitled," with its slowly rising and falling chords, begins to cast a hint of solitude. Soon after, on Kareem Lotfy's "FR3SH," a gorgeous but sorrowful ambient track for PAN, the feeling has swollen into heartache. Aquaphoria continues its emotional journey like a feather in the wind. In its final moments, the mood is gorgeous and reflective, washed over by the sound of the ocean crashing to the shore.
The sense of narrative is convincing on its own, but Kelela's extra vocals are what make this mix truly spellbinding. Her singing floats through the music as freely as water through a net, always enhancing the original with more soul, more beauty, more intimacy and more elegance. Sometimes her voice is just an improvised melody or texture. Other times it forms dreamy lyrics about love and loss. There are a few moments when the interplay between Kelela and the original is so natural that it could make an entirely new song. On Jonny Nash & Suzanne Kraft's "Beluga's Song," from a 2017 album on Melody As Truth, the singer's voice enters a delicate dance with piano parts. Marc Cary's "Rhodes Ahead Intro," from a 1999 jazz LP with house and drum & bass tracks, becomes a savory piece of intergalactic soul.
Perhaps the mix's most inventive moment is when Kelela sings over a 1977 live recording of Jaco Pastorius accompanied by Joni Mitchell. As the crowd hollers in response to the late jazz bassist's psychedelic sermon, Kelela's yearning voice washes in and out—transforming the solo like no one imagined before.
In this way, Aquaphoria does what the best mixes do: take old tracks and imbue them with new meaning. Neither Kelela nor Asmara are known for working with ambient music. And yet, with the low-key charm of a mixtape, they've presented a vision that sounds fully formed and their own. It speaks to their creativity and skill as music makers, but also their passion and curiosity as music lovers.
01. Takashi Kokubo - 01
02. Susumu Yokota - Hagoromo
03. Marc Cary - Rhodes Ahead Intro
04. Autechre - Altibzz
05. Jonny Nash & Suzanne Kraft- Beluga's Song
06. Aphex Twin - Untitled
07. Oneohtrix Point Never - Physical Memory
08. Kareem Lotfy - FR3SH
09. Biosphere - Chukhung
10. Leila - Underwaters
11. OCA - Heaven Cent
12. Visible Cloaks - Screen
13. Jaco Pastorius Solo (live with Joni Mitchell, 1977)
14. Iury Lech - Barreras
15. Cliffdiver - Digital Dreams