One of my favorite things to do when listening to music is closing my eyes and getting lost; picturing the perfect backdrop, color, or scenery to the waves being sent through my brain. Sometimes the music is strong enough to do it for you without having to work too hard. Those are the special albums.
Two projects of this caliber both came out on August 3rd, and are juxtaposed on different ends of the spectrum:
Travis Scott’sASTROWORLD, a literal theme park constructed by sound from the ground up; Mac Miller’sSwimming, taking the elemental make-up of water and soaking your speakers; each are able to create life and give shape to their sonic foundations, creating a unique and cathartic listening experience.
Both albums feature some of the best production of the year, but use different bases and themes to build off of. One, a wild ride filled with loop-de-loops and psychadelic cotton candy tones. The other, a nautical adventure into the depths of the unknown. Take for instance “Come Back To Earth,” the opener on Swimming. This is the beginning of feeling submerged. You’re not necessarily drowning yet, but as you lay there and listen, you know you’re floating. You feel weightless; a mere blip on the undiscovered oceanic charts.
Already from the start Miller has more than just your toes a little wet. You become the little diver man in the video, scouring every corner and inch of your mind, as your inner thoughts develop into the mass that is the ocean. The same can be said for the start of ASTROWORLD. “STARGAZING” is you entering the theme park and taking in everything around you; the giant metal monsters built up especially for you, the performers running wild, the smell and sight of color coated candy all around you. It’s a sugar, drug, and adrenaline induced rush wrapped all into one chocolate bar. It’s your golden ticket.
Other cuts off ASTROWORLD can clearly represent different theme park attractions, whether it’s matching the rhythm of a ride or the overall ambiance. “R.I.P. SCREW,” while an ode to a Houston legend, feels like you’re on an eerie and slow moving water ride that’s entering a long and dark tunnel, making “STOP TRYING TO BE GOD” the other half of the float as you leave the tunnel to see what the outside world has to offer. Other examples include chasing your significant other through a fun house on “WAKE UP,” catching the clown show on “5% TINT,” “ASTROTHUNDER” being the soundtrack to the cyclical yet relaxing pattern of a ferris wheel, and more.
Swimming offers us similar opportunities. “Jet Fuel” is you paddling along in a canoe that might have a few holes in it, trying your hardest to keep afloat while meandering through the scary backwaters. Eventually you can’t keep above water despite the effort, and the last one minute and 14 seconds is you letting the canoe drop, as your back finally meets the water while Miller croons with these tweaked out high pitches. It’s like the sensation you feel in the bathtub while slowly lowering your head back into the water, and all that’s left dry is your eyes, and then bam — you go under.
The following track, “2009,” is opening your eyes in the abyss you thought would be terrible and dark, but finding this incredible underwater world instead. It’s absolute magic.
Now, these are just the things that I can hear. Whether you can come to these same conclusions is neither here nor there. That’s what’s so beautiful about these albums; all the imagery scattered throughout the instrumentation allow our senses to be heightened to a different plane of listening. We can all feel something different. Scott and Miller have allowed these albums to become a live experience from the comfort of your bedroom.
Location, location, location. Something said often that usually rings true. That same sentiment can be applied towards music. Where and when you listen to an album or song can directly effect what you take it from it. (Mike Posner wrote about this exact thing once and I rather enjoyed it.) There are certain pieces of music that simply fit different settings of life better.
Now, Swimming and ASTROWORLD both do a tremendous job of gifting the listener a new world right on a silver platter, but exploring with these two projects is well worth it. For instance, I listened to Swimming in the shower the morning after it was released. The album itself is quite introspective, and for me, at least, the shower is one of the most introspective places to be. I also happened to be deep into my head that morning with writer’s block, among other doubts that tend to creep in when my creativity is stopped or life gets stressful. And it was amazing.
The constant flow of water over you compared with the flow of musical elements Miller and crew created was perfect; the deep bass lines to mimic the endlessness of the ocean and mind, the tempos as the changing currents of life and water, the keys and strings creating a bubble effect, and Miller’s own voice and lyrics as a conscience. In that time and space I was feeling the music to its fullest.
Music is extremely therapeutic. We might not even notice what it’s doing sometimes. There are moments on these projects that make your body flicker with goosebumps, and I’m not even talking about the lyrics. Just hearing these sounds in a certain way does something to the listener.
“COFFEE BEAN” is one of these moments the whole way through. Scott gets self reflective over this wavy ride of guitar partnered by a smooth drum pattern. Then at the 2:13 mark a cello comes in that relieves your body of all pain; it’s a cosmic stream of pure bliss. Then your time at ASTROWORLD is over. It’s so perfect and so Kanye-esque (think My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy). ASTROWORLD showcases new sides of Scott and features some his best work to date. He gives you the literal ups and downs of being on a roller coaster and creates this sense of power and free-ness, the exact ideals that the theme park stood for in Houston. The way the songs bounce around are nothing short of epic.
Miller, on the other hand, has captured the struggle of inner peace, the idea of trying to stay afloat. Treading water, if you will. They say more than 80% of the ocean is unexplored, just as a lot of what happens in our mind goes ignored. The sounds on Swimming travel from one another just as the liquid it’s based around moves and is able to take different shapes and forms. It portrays a certain beauty in its balance; just like the way the negatives and positives affect us all every day.
Both of these albums, while crafted from two different realms, were composed in such a manner to let the music do the heavy lifting. They pick you up out of your home and place you right where you need to be. Then the artists tell their story. While songs transition, so do you. It’s living and breathing art.