Drawing from his experience as a classical and jazz pianist and love for electronic music, GLOWCEAN crafts an album that is both dreamy and intense. The often sweet, classic melodies become subverted by varying and at times discordant electronic elements, striking a balance unlike anything else I’ve heard recently. As with any other full album review, this one is going to be a bit longer, so I’ll get right into it.
The album starts with “Dandelion (Intro)” which is a glittery, bubbly (literally there are bubbling/water sounds used to create the atmosphere) electro-pop track. GLOWCEAN includes some piano elements in there as well, and this track sets the standard for his complexly layered production style. Every track offers the listener something new upon relistening, some more than others.
Next is “PURE (feat. Jade, Cherry Coke)” which actually has, at times, pretty depressing lyrics despite the instrumental following GLOWCEAN’s trend of sparkly electro-pop. Many elements of the instrumental are upbeat and complement the vocalists’ soft tones.
“ESSENCE” is the titular track, and merges GLOWCEAN’s classical piano training with his electronic production skills. The track wastes no time in creating atmospheric dissonance, with the gentle piano riff being interrupted periodically by heavy electronic beats. However, as the track progresses the two sounds begin to work in harmony, eventually fusing into a more consistent melody. It takes it’s time building the listener up for the first drop, and then manages to maintain that energy throughout.
The next track, “Inside of You (Cosmic),” sounds, at first, like it’s going to be as intense and heavy as the preceding track, and then takes a quick turn back into territory similar to the intro. Bubbly chiming does eventually give way to a drop, but the bright-toned bell-like sounds keep the tone elevated. Even when stronger elements come in, the song still manages to retain lightness.
Track number five, “Wheels (feat. SUZANNE, THAMA),” is the track that led me to this album. As I’m sure some readers know, I’m a pretty big fan of SUZANNE — and this is now the second track she and THAMA have sung on together. “Wheels” is slightly more minimalistic and takes a turn almost towards R&B. GLOWCEAN crafts an instrumental that works well with both vocalists tones and colors, and the cyclical nature of certain elements invokes the title of the song. Of all the tracks, I would say this is the most chill, although it still has a lot going on in the background.
“Exhibition (Interlude)” as one might expect is brief and fun. It lifts the energy, ramping listeners up before launching into the second half of the album. GLOWCEAN has a distinct but hard to describe sound, and many of his hallmark elements can be found in this track.
Then “foLlow yoUr curioSiTy” returns to the watery sounds of “Dandelion” and the chimes and bells of “Inside of You,” blending them together in a semi-discordant but still pleasing melody. Traditional string elements play a large role in this song, although they have featured in other tracks. This song also has one of the most intense build-ups to a drop on the entire album.
In “Ceremony” those strings make a quick comeback. I’m not certain of the exact instrument, but they feature at the center of this track. Everything else works with and around them, rippling through the soundscape that GLOWCEAN creates. This track in particular feels almost magical, although all of the album gives me a cyber-fantasy vibe which is extremely interesting.
“Out of Shell (feat. YESEO)” is a personal favorite of mine. The heavier, more complexly layered soundscape of the song complements YESEO’s vocals, most of which are also layered. This track has an extreme depth of sound and provides something new for the listener to catch each time they listen. It also features samples of birdsong, which is fun and apt!
Track ten, “Escapade,” enters with a harp which then fizzles out before coming back in full force. Like the title might suggest, it has a fun and lighthearted energy, although there’s some deep-toned synth trumpet that adds weight to the track at times.
“Hyped” infuses trap elements with GLOWCEAN’s established brand of bubbly synth pop, and the song lives up to its title. It creates an exciting, anticipatory atmosphere without being overwhelming.
“BORN” opens with classical strings and just a hint of glittery synth, giving it all a magical, almost fairy-tale aura. When the strings come to an end, a slow electronic build-up begins, and admittedly the first time I heard this song I was taken aback by the direction it went in. It wasn’t at all what I expected, but because of that I like it even more. The song fades into near-silence twice. Of all the tracks, I feel that this one is the most subversive.
“Why Don’t You Love Me?” is the final track on the album and closes out strong. The track seems to fly by, sweeping the listener up. GLOWCEAN’s piano training once again makes itself present here, although not until the end.
Overall, ESSENCE is a bit of a wild ride, with surprises at nearly every turn. As far as first albums go, this one is not only incredibly well done but shows the amount of time and effort GLOWCEAN has spent perfecting his craft; the intricacy with which each track is woven speaks to not only his abilities but his passion, and I hope to be hearing more of him soon. It’s a polished album which not only showcases GLOWCEAN’s skills as an electronic musician but also as a producer and collaborator.