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ELECTRIC ANALOG: Cupertino natives Kazuma Matsui and Megan Karangutkar make up the band Happy New Year, which recently released its first full-length album. Photo Courtesy of Happy New Year

ELECTRIC ANALOG: Cupertino natives Kazuma Matsui and Megan Karangutkar make up the band Happy New Year, which recently released its first full-length album. Photo Courtesy of Happy New Year

Electronic musician Kazuma Matsui holds a lotion bottle to the microphone. The cap pops open with an audible snap. As one half of the group Happy New Year, “Cupertino’s only ambient band,” Matsui is demonstrating one of their preferred instruments.

“I’ll edit it to the point where it sounds like a kick and snare drum,” Matsui says, before casually dropping a mission statement: “I’m trying to let electronic stuff live inside the physical objects, and the physical objects live in the electronics.”

This New Year’s Eve, Happy New Year, the duo made up of Matsui, who uses they/them pronouns, and guitarist/vocalist Megan Karangutkar, self-released their first full-length, Palimpsest, via Bandcamp. Though it uses very few electronics, Palimpsest makes an exciting statement on electronic music and physical space, taking sounds from nature and domestic life alike, and guiding them into a flowing, harmonious blur.

“I was thinking a lot about space,” Karangutkar says, “both with sonic elements and also lyrically. I wanted each song to create a kind of physical space that you could picture yourself in.”

Led by a breeze of gentle piano, the first track, “Viewfinder” opens like a window. Soon, snare drums rustle like birds in the trees, and a great current of bass carries listeners out into a bright, glitchy day.

Over the next eight tracks, Palimpsest repeatedly evokes images of digitally altered landscapes; arboreal augmented realities. On the second track, “Axis Melt,” a wash of guitars sail by like clouds, droplets of percussion dancing from ear to ear. Then, on mid-album track “All Pulp,” what sounds like a car door ajar sensor gathers into a mellow beat alongside the chirping of a digital bird.

“We love nature,” says Matsui, a Portland resident since 2019. “There was a lot of nature recording on the first Happy New Year EP. A lot of what sounds like drums is just me poking things in a forest with a stick. That kind of thing. Without even saying it, it was implied that there were going to be nature vibes.”

Happy New Year’s two members both graduated from Cupertino High School. There, Matsui became friends with Karangutkar’s older sister. Matsui says that when they first reached out to their future bandmate, they knew very little about her other than that she was a musician.

“I knew she played guitar. That was it,” they say, laughing. “I just randomly emailed and was like, ‘let’s collab.'”

At the end of 2018, the two took the suggestion seriously. On Jan 1 that year, Matsui started a shared Google Drive folder titled “Happy New Year,” and the name stuck.

The group’s first songs were what they call “hyper-edited guitar stuff.”

“I would stretch stuff out so it created a weird drone, like a 10-second clip to five minutes,” Matsui says.

Most of the album’s sound palette was created by the band themselves, as they constructed the album last December.

“I played a lot of the guitars, just because that’s where I feel more comfortable as a musician,” Karangutkar says. “Kazuma is more knowledgeable about the production end of stuff. Plus, I wanted them to work with my guitars because I like what they do with them a lot. There’s some weird stuff going on there.”

Besides a few guitars, some vocals, and those opening piano notes, Palimpsest has little in the way of traditional instrumentation.

“I don’t have much money,” Matsui says. “It’s a lot of, like, recording a tape measure, and then editing it until it’s a tone.”

Matsui lists their collection of instruments: cups, aluminum foil, and “random bells I find at thrift stores.

“A lot of the music I listen to is like whispering over a field recording,” Matsui says. “It’s not really musical, but it’s meant to convey the same emotion as, say, an indie rock song.”

While Palimpsest is a decidedly musical record, it cuts at its emotions from a similarly oblique angle. Ethereal melodies bounce between ear channels.

“Snare Drums” spark like flint against a thick fog, the distant jingle of bells ringing through the haze. Altogether, it makes Palimpsest a great headphone record, and a particularly good one for the outdoors.

But don’t look for it on Spotify.

“I think it’s important to be creating art that is accessible both in the way you’re making it and the way you’re releasing it,” Karangutkar says. “That’s why we both don’t want to be on Spotify at all.”

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