Album Review: Khotin – Release Spirit

[Ghostly; 2023]

Dylan Khotin-Foote’s music is imbued with a searching nostalgia, and the musician incorporates this into his imagery as well. Last year he posted (presumably recent) pictures taken on a Game Boy camera to Twitter, and the video for “Fountain, Growth”, from his new album under his Khotin moniker, is shot on camcorder. Release Spirit’s opener “HV Road” is interspersed with field recordings that the artist took on a family vacation. Never shy to incorporate humor into his music, one of the first things you’ll hear on the album is his sister asking “Why are you recording?”

It’s a sweet spot that Khotin finds himself in as an artist: making instrumental music that is beautiful and spacious enough to scratch an ambient itch, yet lively and playful enough to keep a fun-seeking listener’s attention. Anyone familiar with Khotin’s 2019 album Beautiful You will remember both the stunning atmosphere of tracks like “Water Soaked in Forever”, as well as the hilarious vocal samples on tracks like “Merged Host” and “Vacation”.

The funny samples that highlighted Beautiful You are recalled here in “3 pz”’s sample of a Russian language translation guide (“This guy is so annoying!”), again displaying a kind of nostalgia for the technology of the artist’s youth. Of course, nostalgia is not a new element in electronic music, but unlike vaporwave, which channels (largely 80s consumer culture) nostalgia via samples of pre-existing music, Khotin’s sounds are largely original and constructed with the ear of an expert producer. “Lovely”’s drums have a catchy shuffle, and “Home World 303” has a sick acid squelch.

Release Spirit, like so much music of the past few years, reflects the influence of the pandemic, as it was written and recorded in the artist’s native Edmonton after he moved back home from Vancouver. In disquieting times, a balmy summer in Edmonton, a city with the longest stretch of connected urban parkland in North America, sounds like just the place for a good respite. This translates to tracks like “Unlimited <3”, with its musicbox-like melody and gently psychedelic synths. “Life Mask” likewise conjures imagery of a calm and quiet summer day, the streets empty of all but birds.

In other ways, Release Spirit is more upbeat than much of Khotin’s works, with “Computer Break (Late Mix)” sounding like the menu-music for a competitive SEGA game. “Techno Creep” has a confident strut that builds in percussive intensity. “Fountain, Growth” is a confident collaboration with singer Tess Roby, the first vocal collaboration on a Khotin album. This is a welcome first, as Roby’s soothing, stretched out vocals find a natural fit over the downtempo track. It’s an easy standout here.

Closer “Sound Gathering Trip” again channels nostalgia with reverb effects that sound like a time-warp. It’s an appropriate ending to another successful release from Khotin, an artist who, armed with just his laptop and a small home studio, has the ability to make you laugh, dance, reflect and space out all during the same album.