You probably already know about the proverbial Difficult Second Album, also known as the You Better Not Fuck Up album. Honestly, it's a pretty stupid idea in an era when you can just follow someone's output via Soundcloud streams; but it's an idea that's stuck around nonetheless—a test that determines if that first spark has since trailed off into darkness or will continue burning into something worth paying attention to…and further throwing your money at.
With his sophomore effort Voidic Charms out on July 22 on Coral Records Internazionale, Chicago's Ultrademon (née Albert Redwine) is standing at that career-defining crossroads. It's a junction that's even more salient because up to this point, Redwine has been best known as one of the originators of seapunk—a short-lived, social media-spawned cultural movement/fart (depending on how you look at it) that drew its last gasping breaths when Rihanna cribbed the aesthetic on her SNL performance in 2012. The brouhaha that followed over the perceived cultural appropriation catapulted the micro-genre to international scrutiny; even Media Dad the New York Times got involved, placing a photo of turquoise-haired Redwine right smack at the top of their coverage. (Headline: "Little Mermaid Goes Punk.")
Redwine's first album, which arrived a few months after the now-infamous SNL toss-up, was fittingly titled Seapunk. Many considered it a good sign that Aphex Twin's Rephlex Records was behind the release—an indicator, perhaps, that Redwine's talents would outlast the ephemeral "digital petri dish" that he rose out of.
When asked over a recent Skype call about those early days, Redwine—whose mop of turquoise hair has since grown out and faded to a greenish-blue—acts like he couldn't really give less of a shit. "The aesthetic was just good advertising, I guess," he says with a short laugh. "I wasn't going to call [the album] Seapunk. It was Grant [from Rephlex Records]'s idea—he said it would do better that way."
Even if the album's title was a bit of a gimmick, its release marked the beginning of the end for the little online sect. "A lot of people who were in the initial group backed away—like Le1f, Slava and Huerco S, who went on to do a lot of cool things," Redwine recalls. Meanwhile, "16-year-olds were making horrible images on Tumblr that had nothing to do with what we were doing." The way he sees it, seapunk was the music and art that he and his friends were involved with—"everything else is another thing completely."
It's clear that, two years after Seapunk, Redwine is more than ready to move on to the next thing. In a way, Voidic Charms is his first real opportunity to present his music to the world, (hopefully) unfettered by cultural baggage. "The last record was trying to capture a certain place and time. This one is just me, with no hashtag associated with it," he says. "This album feels like a release, and a step in the right direction."
So it's fitting that Voidic Charms begins with an entreaty to break out of our somnambulistic state—a computerized, cartoon-y voice straight out of The Matrix urges, "You need to wake up. Wake up," before blasting off into the dense collage of lilypad synths, cut-up vocals and skittering breaks that make up its first proper track, "Desert Star."
The command is a subtle echo of Redwine's personal politics, which draws from veganism, environmentalism, straight edge culture, and even a bit of old seapunk's idealization of tropical utopias.
"We're in the apocalypse right now, if there ever was one," his explanation begins. "This weird, post-industrial wasteland where we're using up the planet's resources and destroying biodiversity… it's really fucked up. People are fueling themselves with oil, refined stimulants and drugs. We're in this cyberpunk world where people can use drugs to bio-hack themselves, or put Bluetooth pieces on their heads so they can be like cyborgs."
"My new album is kind of drawing from that, showing where we're at and painting this post-apocalyptic utopia where we could be. But it's a subtle message. I don't have lyrics, so it's more of a feeling."
This isn't entirely true. On the standout track, "Drive U Crazy," Redwine's longtime collaborator Zombelle and the Chicago-based crooner The GTW step in to sing over wonky, swollen synths that sound like Disclosure run through a pool of ketamine. The lyrics are infused with an inherent trippiness: "Eyes wide, suicide, untied, losing my grip on your reality." For an album that begins with a call to "wake up," there's a hell of a lot of fantasy—you could even say personal mythology—everywhere you listen.
Zombelle and Ultrademon
"God, now I'm going to get really weird," Redwine says, when asked about all the hallucinatory references, the tracks with names like "Fantasy House" and "Nautical Elves." "I encountered this demonic entity when I was 17. I had an ecstatic experience. I kind of built a mythology around it from there; a lot of my music is about interfacing with that entity."
I have to know what that experience feels like.
"It's like there's a chord attached to the back of your brain, in your neck, to something far away. When that entity is way out far away, I can feel the pull of the chord, and sometimes he's integrated into my body." He laughs knowingly, preempting how crazy this must all sound. "But maybe that's astral projection. I try not to obsess over it too much," he shrugs.
And yet, the mythological cloak that Redwine has draped over the album can be spotted everywhere, including another standout, "Wasteland (44,000 Years in the Making)." "This might sound a bit kitsch," he apologizes, "But I've written out this story in my head to go along with the name Ultrademon. The short story is that the entity has been around for 44,000 years."
Beginning with a video game-like vocal snippet of someone declaring, "No future! Cerebral cortex is obsolete!" the track showcases his uncanny ability to weave together a grab bag of disparate samples and ideas into a cohesive narrative, with a slow, syrupy melody building into hyperactive, footwork-inspired drum patterns. Redwine is an unapologetic master of mixing things that wouldn't—and usually, shouldn't—go together. On "Voidic Charm," he slams together grime with Chicago hard house; elsewhere, UK funky, acid, anime and videogame samples are thrown together in a musical salad that somehow still works.
The samples that form the foundation of this melange are culled from an immense library that Redwine has been stocking since the age of 14, when he would peruse the dollar bins of record stores to grab cuts and build drum kits out of them, envisioning himself as a sort of newfangled DJ Shadow. "I like that low-fi sampling sound," he admits, "I used a tape simulator on a lot of tracks, and have looked into a reel-to-reel to give it that vibe. But with electronic music it's tricky because putting stuff to tape can fuck up the bass. So digital simulators are better."
As a result, Redwine's sample-based music radiates plenty of feels—a warmth that many of his contemporaries who similarly pull found sounds from the bottomless well of the internet seem to lack. Integrating the worlds of expressiveness and dancefloor-ready beats is a challenge that Redwine threw himself into. "If you go too far, it can become like trance Tiesto EDM. But if you go in the other direction, it's like Night Slugs/Fade to Mind, where it's just throwaway bass music, little bleeps and bloops."
Now that Voidic Charms has been flung into the universe for the rest of us to listen to, pick apart and share, what does Redwine plan to do next? Move to a tropical island, he says. "I'm definitely feeling more of the jungle now than the ocean." He's also been listening to a lot of drum n bass and jungle, genres that lend themselves to his interest in mixing lots of styles together. In a perfect world, he'd move to Thailand with his girlfriend, where they'd subsist on papayas, mangoes and durians—"I prefer the exotic fruits"—but since reality rarely lives up to our dreams, he'll settle for Hawaii instead.
Tracklist for Ultrademon's "Wake Up and Eat Fruit" mix (which you'll find at the top of this post)
Ultrademon - Wake Up Intro
Magic Mistakes - Forest Floor
Chymera - Hundulu
Claes Rosen - Wonderful
Matrixxman - Scimitar
Technotronic - Pump Up The Jam
Ultrademon - Drive U Crazy (Feat. The GTW, Zombelle) [Forthcoming Coral Records Internazionale]
Bicep - Circles
Tapirus - I Really Wonder When We'll Meet Again [Forthcoming Midnight Shift]
Music For Your Plants - Paramilitary (Arkitect remix)
Soulja Boy - Eat
Ultrademon - Voidic Charm [Forthcoming Coral Records Internazionale]
Norrit - Want U Back
Sinistarr - Lancelot Bootleg
Ultrademon - Full Moon [Forthcoming Coral Records Internazionale]
Bazz - It's You
Lil Texas - I Don't Wanna Leave
Pa's Lam System - I'm Coming (Avec Avec Remix)
Pa's Lam System - I'm Coming (PARKGOLF Remix)
Seiho - Digital Elite (Ultrademon Remix)
DJ Leukos - Untitled Riddim (Korma Remix)
Pixelord - Shuffleclub
Umbertron - Alleycat
Ultrademon - Docudrama
Seiho - Untitled
More aquatic adventures:
Michelle Lhooq's Twitter feed is 100% pure, freshly squeezed tropical paradise - @MichelleLhooq