New York City producer Josh Abramovici (aka Snacs) makes what could occasionally pass for chill-out music, though it’s far more participatory and dynamic than that simple description might lead you to believe. His slowly turning, amorphous beats and snaking synth-led rhythms recall the work of artists like Neon Indian and Washed Out — but without the often cringe-worthy chillwave tag that people — especially critics — are so apt to apply to anything that features blurry-eyed harmonies and sections of lethargic, half-submerged keyboards. It’s less a nostalgic kick and more the natural development of his own unique interpretation of these sounds. But it’s in the inventive use of distorted samples and twisted R&B aesthetics that sets his latest release, Swim Tape, apart from the current crop of home-spun beat artists and synth sycophants.
The murky brass vibe of opener “Pager (Boo) / Tryna Be” relies heavily on its use of an Akira Ishikawa Count Buffalo Jazz and Rock Band sample that’s been threaded together with a pitch-shifted acapella snippet from Destiny Child’s “Bug A Boo.” The track seems to have been recorded from a thousand feet straight down in the Pacific — as the wobbly, osmotic beats seem to saturate and break through the surface tension of the music. The album continues with the aquatic imagery and rhythms as “Blueberry Part 1” and “Blueberry Part 2” both utilize a sample from Minnie Ripperton’s “Lovin’ You” that feels streamed in from what sounds like the Marianas Trench. Pitching the vocals down until they’re barely recognizable (though with that melody, of course they still are), Abramovici constructs a cyclical harmony that runs parallel to itself with a wealth of bubbling synths and thudding beats keeping it from dissolving into some watery ether.
“Threads” opens with a skittering series of synth swatches and clacking percussion, brought together through a reverberating mixture of tenuous beats and viscous intonations. This is the sound of a rave party’s last gasping breathe transmuted and broadcast from the darkest, most lethargic club under the sea. He then opts for a piano-led synthetic cadence on “Pancakes,” turning a buried vocal track against a languorous beat and imbuing it with a blustering strut that wouldn’t feel out of place on James Blake’s recent album. But album closer “Word On The Street” is something completely unique, an amalgamation of distorted vocals from “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey and bits and pieces of soul singer David Ruffin’s “I Miss You” — all bound together with clacking percussion and leisurely oscillating synths that mirror the way in which he experiments with the timbre of her voice and the opaque nature of the melody itself. This type of sound splicing can often go horribly wrong but here it seems more the natural evolution of its combined sounds.
Abramovici may be trailing along in the same smooth glissando wake of artists such as Balam Acab and Holy Other, but his work here displays a distinct musical direction and never feels weighed down with unnecessary baggage. Even his use of somewhat recognizable samples doesn’t take any of the attention away from his composite work; it simply shows that he can assimilate and successfully restructure his influences to serve the interests of his own songs. And while Swim Tape is actually best experienced as one long mix, it is fascinating to see how each segment holds up on its own. Separate from their contextual landscapes, each track creates an environment of muddied synths, lo-fi percussion, and chopped samples — and also allows us brief glimpses into the producer’s often abstract methodology.
The title may conjure images of aqueous rhythms and ebbing tidal workmanship – and to a certain degree, those are apt descriptions — but Swim Tape is far more than the sum of its intermittently incongruous parts. Under his Snacs moniker, Abramovici has created a churning hybrid of electronic textures, R&B swagger, and blissed-out synthwork. Touching on various aspects of half a dozen genres, these songs leave you feeling soaked in dense, nebulous melodies and buffeted by a constantly spiraling array of gauzy keyboards and homemade beats. In fact, he’s really already done the hard work for us. All we have to do is duck our heads under the surface of Swim Tape and enjoy the view.