Review: Photay – Photay

Of the many acolytes known of Obey City’s increasingly seminal and always delivering Astro Nautico imprint, Photay is perhaps the least known or busy. If you let fairly modest online following statistics smother the nascency of his producer status, you’ll let what is one of the most original bodies of work this listener has come across this year drift right past you (though these some 30 minutes don’t exactly play short). Culling a multitude of influences, including a study stint in Africa for music, the 22 year-old Evan Shornstein’s music is emotive, fruitfully experimental, genuinely original and fits well within a mold cast by the host Brooklyn label. Even as a relative newcomer and with a less than definable discography, Photay is effectively one of the sharper needles in a pile of needles, so to speak.

Stream: Photay – Communication (Astro Nautico)

It’s a good possibility that those not among his kinship at SUNY Purchase who knew of Shornstein prior to last month’s debut took cognizance of him after they heard his contribution to Atlantics Vol. 3, last spring’s (and still the latest) brimming Astro Nautico compilation. Also self-titled, but self-released (seemingly to mild fanfare on the Bandcamp medium) in 2012 came a composite of works which marked the unveiling of Photay’s foray into electronic music. But it was that Atlantics tune “Communication”—at times good-vibed with jubilant melodies and juke-ish rhythms and at others melancholic, if not deflating, with decrement chords and a bluesy “I love you” sample—that may have been the impetus to the organization of his proper debut on Astro Nautico. There are only a couple instances on Photay where he sounds at all similar to “Communication” per se, negating the prospect of an unwavering, “found sound,” but an aspect of Photay that can be traced back from as early as the aforementioned composite album is outstanding musicality. Shornstein, the apparently once Aphex Twin-listening fifth grader, has a way with integrating harmony, layering, sampling texture, and incomprehensibly crafting polyrhythms.

Stream: Photay – Reconstruct (feat. Seafloor) (Astro Nautico)

Album opener “Detox” does just as it’s titled: it cleanses the palette altogether, priming your mind for invigoration and an ultimate trek through the mind of Photay at the time of writing. Its revolving melody, transitioning from one timbre to another at one point, and brassy backdrop gently sedates, but there’s an air of curiosity here too. Just as one will find Photay in its entirety, the intro sounds unpredictable, ready to turn one corner or the next yet orchestrated. Rather than a synthetic emulation, there is actually trumpet play on the ensuing “Reconstruct,” the proper first single lifted from the project a few months before the release and which features the vocal of Brooklyn artist Seafloor, another AN producer. A biting synth riff misleads early on, but soon breaks out to become a minor role in the mix. Seafloor is clearly the focal point here: the trumpet responds to his breathy, lithe vocal in an interaction which—instead of polyrythms—is the first fleshed-out influence of Shornstein’s time spent in Guinea, West Africa heard on the record.

The second single we heard from the album might be the best. Originality and inventiveness underline “No Sass.” In a way similar to the preceding track, it seems like Shornstein attempts to misguide here again, initially setting for a dark vibe implementing beedy, rainy textures and tribal drums evocative of some type of sullen ritual. What eventually reign superior in truth though, are climbing, reedy riffs and vibraphone strokes and inarticulate vocal harmony (the source of which is not disclosed in the credits) . One of the more captivating moments on the album happens midway through this track when a lead line appears, cleared through the dazzling fray of instruments, bending in intensification then stopping, presenting a very obvious situation wherein the track has to decide on a path. “Static At The Summit” is less full of surprises than it is focused and rounded. It’s colorful with melody, like a lot of what bears the Astro Nautico label, but not in a lurid way; it’s one of the more beat-centric tracks on the record, and the tight-handed snares and hats (or the sound Shornstein captures to mimick them) are still subtle. Photay is a balancing act (accurately says the press release), of synthetic and natural, but also of genre, so it’s only right that “These Fruits, These Vegetables” chugs along with nearly chillwave-ish (e.g. Bibio) funk. If the idea remains to be unclear, this kid is shifty, elusive, and his work is full of spontaneous movement. That said, the closing “Illusion of Seclusion” seeks not to knock you back into your seat with too many unpredicted thrills, but imparts a sort of retrospective feeling that bookends the record’s eased introduction. The last quarter of the song flaunts a final spurt of unfettered virtuosity that potentially foreshadows a prolific, busy future Photay—and I hope that’s the case.

Stream: Photay – No Sass (Astro Nautico)

The 12″ version of the album is currently sold out, but the digital version comes packaged with three bonus tracks, “Dusk”, “Chrome”, and “Astral Projection”. Photay was released on September 9 on Astro Nautico.

Michael Scala