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Caustic Light EP by Off The Sky (Review)

It’s one thing for dreams to inspire music, but quite another for music to inspire a dream while you’re still awake.
Caustic Light EP - Off the Sky

The website where you can download Off The Sky’s Caustic Light EP contains some key info that might help those baffled by Jason Corder’s disorienting guitar-based collages. It comes from Corder’s own notes, where he attempts to define what he means by “caustic light.” He writes “the constant random patterns of light at the bottom of a pool or from light cutting through crystals and dancing on a table in prismic fashion always caught my childhood imagination leaving a strange, sentimentaly charged residue.” The four fractured, kaleidoscopic pieces that make up the EP are his attempt to recreate, in sonic form, those memories and dreams.

If you keep that in mind, than a track like “Her Soft Circumference” takes on a whole new level of meaning. On the surface, it’s a pretty enough assemblage of various sound sources — an assortment of guitar fragments ranging from folky acoustics to rumbling drones to shoegazery textures, piano sprinklings, lo-fi glitchy hiss, ghostly wisps of a girl’s voice, etc. And while it’s pretty, it’s also very disorienting. The effect is that of listening to someone rapidly scan through the radio dial. You can hear snippets of this and that — a little David Sylvian, some Labradford, a bit of Susumu Yokota, a fair bit of lovesliescruching — but it doesn’t quite seem to coalesce into a greater whole.

And yet it’s that intangibility, as random and frustrating as it might be, that truly gives the track it’s beauty. It remains just on the edge of the listener’s consciousness, fluttering this way and that, remaining elusive. The term “dreamlike” gets tossed around these parts quite a bit, but it truly does feel apt here. There’s a hallucinatory feeling to “Her Soft Circumference” akin to that feeling you have on those rare occasions when you wake up before the alarm clock, or at least think you wake up.

The sun has just begun to rise, its light slowly filtering through the closed blinds, suffusing the room with a sort of half-light that gives rise to shapes and shadows that may or not be there. It’s a strange place to be in, completely unsure of the tangibility of your surroundings, and yet also aware of a great sense of warmth and comfort.

After the relative chaos of “Her Soft Circumference,” the remaining 3 tracks are somewhat more subdued, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less transporting. “Dripping Lightly, Diffuses…” opens with harp, cavernous echoes, and water dripping. I don’t know if Corder is a spelunker at all, but there is the sense of wandering through deep underground cisterns and catacombs. And given the track’s meditative feel, one gets the notion that these might be hidden holy places.

The first time I listened to “Through Time Stained Windows,” it was on my headphones towards the end of the workday. It had been a long week, and as I sat there, tired and just sort of spacing out as I contemplated some design work, I noticed that my co-workers seemed to be moving in unnatural ways. Soon enough, I realized it was the music, with its long, drawn out drones, endlessly reverbed acoustic guitars, and random bits of glitch and percussion. It was the way it teased me with hints of actual song structures, of definable melodies and rhythms, only to disappear once again into the ether before offering up another tantalizing bit.

Although my conscious mind knew everything was fine — my co-workers were still walking by putting one foot in front of the other — I couldn’t help but feel as if I was slipping away somehow and seeing only half-things, half-movements. I don’t think I would’ve been surprised had one of them walked through the wall. Suffice to say, it was one of more affecting musical experiences I’ve had in awhile.

It’s one thing for dreams to inspire music, but quite another for music to inspire a dream while you’re still awake. And yet, that’s exactly what Corder consistently manages to do throughout the EP’s 48 minutes.

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