The newest album by Los Angeles composer and producer Dot (Kate Ellwanger), evolve or dissolve, is a playful and surreal marriage of dreamy electronic pop with understated hip hop influence. Confident in execution, evolve or dissolve is the third EP to be released (June 25th) by Dot and comes through Alpha Pup Records.
Dot’s latest release is illustrative and generally serene without lacking energy. The album feels cohesive and representative of its title, building and deconstructing melody while providing sufficient grounding for its flighty journey. Melodies are almost cheerfully romantic but rooted in bass that speaks well of Dot’s dubstep schooling.
The album’s opening track “Evolve or Dissolve” unravels with pleasantly layered sonic textures. Each clack, woop and drip constructs space for the next, allowing for new discoveries to be peeled away with a second or third listen. As the title track, it does its job by setting up the tone of the album with collaborating elements, and promises a collection of tracks that could appeal to fans of both pop and hip hop.
“Bare Bones” makes an antagonistic entrance, instilling a tense energy early on. This second track has rubber bounce and calls out for an unfortunately unfulfilled percussion of lyrics to match. Beats deliberately build, rise and count the stairs down again with a very visual character.
“Elevenfold” snaps into an eerie package of bass that lazily settles in and out. About two minutes in, Dot delivers a quirky and windy melody strongly reminiscent of Soviet era films and, as a result, laced with a feeling of nostalgia and anticipation.
“Bardo” theatrically ambles in on the footsteps of piano, briefly twangy guitar and ominous but minimal synth organ. The trance atmosphere of this track consciously evokes psychedelic carousels without the carnival cliché. As soon as the horizon starts to bubble and distort, it’s hard to image a better chosen prelude for Dot’s fifth track, “Bodies”.
“Bodies” features Teri Gender Bender of Le Bucherettes in a witchy chant of “bodies, heads, bodies, heads, bodies, heads” that neatly introduces vocals into evolve or dissolve. Oddly addictive and zany, “Bodies” dips into moments of a wandering vocal exploration easily captured best by weird-folk singer Josephine Foster, showing just how diverse potential collaborations with Dot could be. A slick and purposeful transition through the heart of the album is made with the dark and airy “Dream Signs”.
The latter half of the album slowly builds down and decomposes the energy of the well-layered preceding tracks. “For Rama”, featuring Mike Parvizi of Penthouse Penthouse, paints a soft music box melody over a steady synth pitter patter.
“Ritual” is successful not only in creating atmosphere, but in uniting the dispersed vocal elements of evolve or dissolve. This eighth track picks up where the incantations of “Bodies” dissolved, weaving the assemblage of Dot’s mosaic with a more ethereal hue than the opening half of the album.
“Red Ah”, resting on the parabolic build and fall of hazy vocals, evokes elements of “Shishala” from Random Rab’s 2011 album Visurreal. Piano-driven “Becoming” continues this evocation of Random Rab’s supernatural eclecticism, percussive and resonant, and a little dissonant.
“Liminal” swipes in to rebuild the layered energy of the album with scattered punctuation of industrial noise, while slow and romantic “4 am”, featuring Nobody, echoes back to a similar–but more muffled–sense of nostalgic melody that was found on the third track. “Waterwings” is a dialogue of highs and lows, feeling a bit too drawn out despite clocking in at just under three minutes, and making a clear connection to a stripped down Flying Lotus from Until the Quiet Comes.
As a bookend to this album, “Variations” cleverly cycles back to the energy and higher tones of the album’s first track, neatly nesting the progressive deconstruction of all contained tracks.
Overall, evolve or dissolve is deliberately and consistently produced, well balanced between percussion and melody, and makes effective references—even if they are unconscious—to musical influences that can be well appreciated. Dot’s third album feels uncomplicated and satisfying, perhaps even useful in how well it releases tension.
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