Akioka has been one of my favourite local acts to see live in the past 12 months, and to my mind, maybe Perth’s greatest musical revelation in that time. Tess Darcey’s vocal contributions to Mei Saraswati and Phil Stroud’s live bands are indispensable, and her solo project (which also kind of operates as an AV duo with visual artist Amy Priemus, aka Dolphin Secrets) constitutes a unique and enthralling creative universe. It’s a sphere populated by warm drones, shimmering melodic shifts, ghostly vocal timbres. These things, bejewelled with synth and percussion psychedelia, haunting lyrics and warped organic forms.
The only drawback was that during Akioka’s steady rise to local-favourite status, we didn’t have any “release” per se to latch onto (despite pretty consistent Soundcloud uploads). Call me old fashioned (garn!), but the former still feels relevant and important. It unifies compositions into a curated experience, demands consideration be paid to the flow and tonal interplay between tracks, coheres everything around artwork and text.
So, when I found out Akioka had a tape coming out on Pouring Dream (run by Rupert and Rebecca of Erasers), I was rapt. And the other night when I was going to go out but anxiety got the better of me, I figured it was the perfect opportunity to instead run a bath, light some incense and cue up the calming tones of the two-track cassette; it’s called ‘Right Here’ and comes out on Saturday (Sept 24), launching at Highgate Continental.
The title track is up first, though “track” doesn’t really do it justice. It’s more of a minimalist concerto that plays out over eleven-and-a-bit magical minutes. First, a descending pentatonic scale played on gentle, raindrop synth. Then a meditative drone created by the slow, metronomic repetition of a single mallet on marimba. Vocal wisps float in and gather in the vague shape of a minor chord - mingling, undulating and suspending. Time passes differently while you listen. Everything moves both faster and slower than usual. The through-line is immersion - Akioka’s sounds become the place you’re in, making the title particularly apt. You’re finally jolted out of the trance when some of the sounds begin to play in reverse, leading you into the flip - ‘Light Up.’
Here, patient kalimba notes become the foundation for a loop laden with sweet choral vocals and low electronic feedback. Unexpected “lead” singing creeps in, tip-toeing over the dense hazy loop, gradually becoming subsumed by it. Again, there’s a hypnotic quality, but the machinations are less arcane: it’s easier now to witness the music changing, developing. Eventually the layers drop away, leaving only that first kalimba (but pitched down), and Darcey’s voice returns in a new key, spinning a folky melody in the open space, then re-tracing itself. Just as you’re fully submerged in this new section, it collides with the previous bed of loops, creating an eerie polytonality that would make Stravinsky proud.
I’d thought that a two-track, minimally-produced cassette would be pretty easy to write about. Not so. I’ve listened to it about six times now and each time, I hear something totally different. Varied frequencies and nuances pop out, different rhythms seem to dominate, melodies “mean” different things. The sounds can come across as mournful, ecstatic, calm or foreboding. This speaks to the subtle complexity of Akioka’s approach, and also the cunning ambiguities she imbues. Like those MC Escher pictures that can be birds or fish, ‘Right Here’ changes dramatically depending on how you come at it, or where your focus falls. Rather than frustrating a resolution, this simply opens the music up to more compelling repeat listens - it’s generous in that way. The purple risographed cover designed by Dolphin Secrets is beautiful, too. Get your hands on a hard copy if you can, or enjoy the digital download. Either option guarantees poignantly disembodied music to enrich the physical and not-so-physical self.