Album Walkthrough: Ukiyo details the excellence of his self-titled debut album
The Perth-based producer's debut album is a collaborative effort, featuring Maribelle, Bajillionaire, Panama, Feelds and more.
Anyone with their toes dipped into the brilliance of Perth's electronic scene would probably be already well-familiar with Ukiyo. The solo production project of Tim Arnott has blossomed into a favourite both on the live stage and in recording; the musician being someone often found supporting of the country's best names with work that flutters between moments of dancing electronica, pop and indie - an intersection that's only got better and better since his initial introduction back in 2016.
In the time since his debut, Ukiyo has been quick to showcase his expertise in a string of roles. His 2018 Fantasy EP switched between experimental moments of electronic instrumentation - moments that showcase Ukiyo's craft and creativity without the restrictions of guest collaborators - with those that twisted his productions alongside vocalists such as Feelds and Chymes. His 2019 Ukiyo Mixtape, however, was almost entirely instrumental; a representation of an evolving sound and the new musical worlds he was surrounding himself in: beat tapes, hip-hop production and more included.
Now, he reaches a peak with the release of a self-titled debut album, a 13-track release that seemingly ties everything together with a bow built from Ukiyo's charm and energy - the defining factor of the record, that links together its many sounds and textures. Across the space of the album's duration, Ukiyo morphs between different energies. Songs like Stars are twinkling, self-produced spectacles that feel comparable to Porter Robinson's more subtle and low-key work, and the rich emotion he can convey through music even without lyrics. The immediately following Equi, for example, represents the album's second side - the side in which Ukiyo takes his productions and uses them to navigate the highs and lows of his guest collaborators, and how he can fold his productions around the vocals of whoever he works with.
It's something that particularly shines across the bulk of the record, delivering many of the album's highlights. Feelds gives a Chet Faker-like reprise from his earlier EP in 2018; JANEVA moves between slow-swaying R&B and glitchy electronica on Friends; Good Enough enlists Maribelle for one of the album's more upbeat bursts of pop; The Middle taps into Panama's Jarrah McCleary for a ethereal spark of electro-pop; Sammi Constance emerges for the thick-footed and sonically-distorted Runaway and so on.
Make It Better - which features two of 2020's most exciting acts in Bajillionaire and Brewer - is another example of how Ukiyo's expertise is in bringing the best out of who he surrounds himself with, the end result being something strikingly alike Porter Robinson's euphoric electro-pop, with darker meaning charaded underneath: "This song is all about personal struggles, so it means completely different things to Bajillionaire, Brewer and myself who wrote it," he says. "For me, this song is about anxiety, which is something that I’ve always struggled with but only really started taking seriously very recently."
Regardless of whoever Ukiyo enlists or whatever he does to ensure that his guest collaborator feels comfortable amongst the surrounding production, the thing that links it all together is the energy and charm of a cult-favourite musician finally finding a peak point with a debut album, one that's used as a celebration not just of Ukiyo's journey both personally and musically, but also of Australian music as a whole. "I’ve always been completely in love with the Australian music scene, so I knew that in my unique position as a producer I wanted to showcase some of the incredible upcoming Australian artists when it came around to creating my album," he says. "Everything from production, to features, mixing, mastering, artwork is all 100% Australian. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out and I hope I can finally take people on the journey I’ve always wanted to through this music."
It's one hell of a time; one that is really worth celebrating for anyone who has watched Ukiyo rise through the Perth electronic ranks over the last few years. Take a listen to it below, and read a track by track walkthrough from Ukiyo that dissects his album's themes and creation, one song at a time:
I made this track in Brisbane while I was crashing at my friend Jacob’s house on my Something Like This tour in 2018. We challenged ourselves to each make a song in 15 minutes. I think we were both about as surprised as each other that this was what I came up with. This song really cemented the idea that I wanted to start putting my effort into making an album, so it seemed right to make it the intro track.
Equi (feat. Isla)
Of all the songs I’ve ever made, this track is probably the one that changed the most from original demo to final track, there must be a good couple hundred versions. Originally it was a little hip hop beat, I remember reversing the vocal chop I had on a whim and being blown away with how it sounded and pretty much building the rest around that. I had the chorus/drop pretty much locked in for a while but tried a bunch of different ideas for the rest of the track. In the end, the piano chords that ended up in the final track was a saxophone sample that I ran through Ableton’s audio to midi function. Isla absolutely nailed the vocals on this one, I called my manager as soon as I heard it so we could listen together.
Something Like This (feat. Feelds)
One that’s become a bit of a classic now, so I knew I had to include it on the album. I’ll never get tired of hearing Feelds’ luscious vocals.
Friends (feat. JANEVA)
A track I’ve had sitting around for quite a while now. I’ve found myself leaning more towards straighter beats lately so I wanted something on the album that’s full of groove and swing. Janeva took it to another level, I’ve been told it’s going to be a post-breakup classic. She even made those vocal chops too.
Good Enough (feat. Maribelle)
The first single off the album, it’s about being happy with what you have. There was a country song that popped up in a tv show I was watching that inspired the swung beat throughout the track, so I was picturing cowboys about 80% of the time I was working on it.
The hardest I’ve ever worked to finish a track & one I’d probably have otherwise never finished if it wasn’t for the album. I had the chorus done in an hour but it took me 2 years on-off to find something that’d complement it for the rest of the song. There are so many reasons this track shouldn’t work at all, from the bass that stays on the same note for whole sections to the vocals that aren’t even real words, but I think weirdly it all kinda came together and works in a unique way.
The Middle (feat. Panama)
The second single off the album, The Middle is all about the compromises we make in relationships, about meeting in ‘the middle.’ The original demo when I sent it to Panama was called “stay” which I thought was a funny little response to my previous track Go with Chymes. They both discuss similar themes of dysfunctional relationships & the fight within when you’re trying to leave them. Working with Panama was a dream come true, his Always EP way back in 2013 with all the amazing remixes on it was one of the things that got me absolutely hooked on electronic music & learning how to make it so this song is a bit of a full-circle moment. Very purposefully ended up right in the middle of the album as well.
Ryo/Runaway (feat. Sammi Constantine)
Originally just one track with an intro that went way too long, it’s a track that came out of a weird phase of listening to Ariana Grande and Jon Hopkins and wondering how those styles would mix. Sammi originally wrote these lyrics to a completely different demo of mine so I went a bit crazy pitching and speeding up her vocals into what it is now. The final track is her pitched up original demo vocals mixed in with ones she re-recorded in a proper studio. I spent way longer than I’d like to admit going through syllable-by-syllable making sure it was all lined up perfectly.
An instrumental track inspired by old NASA missions & the vastness of space. Right at the beginning, I envisioned a whole album of music like this because I was making so many in this kind of realm. Glad this one made the cut, maybe I’ll release a few more of the tracks like this after the album.
Another spacey one. I’ve always been fascinated with the pictures of the space capsules bringing the astronauts back down to Earth and into the ocean. Just such a weird juxtaposition of technology. I was imagining what it must be like to be in one of those while I was making this song. Touchdown is at 1:52.
Make It Better (feat. Bajillionaire & Brewer)
The third single of the album, this song is all about personal struggles, so it means completely different things to Bajillionaire, Brewer & myself who wrote it. For me, this song is about anxiety, which is something that I’ve always struggled with but only really started taking seriously very recently. You’ll hear a lot of references to that in the lyrics as well as the production, which was originally called “Don’t Forget to Breathe” in its demo form. I wanted to turn my feelings of anxiety into something beautiful, with the building, whirling synths in the verses representing how I feel in the moment and the chorus recreating the feeling of getting through it. I recently started taking medication to help with the anxiety and I’ve found myself blasting this song in the car ever since, it feels good to finally have a lot more days feeling like the chorus section.
I recorded this live in my bedroom on a hot summer afternoon in Perth. One take of the chords through a microkorg and a lead sound that goes crazy using the mod wheel. I called it Dimension because it was at the end of a crazy day and I was exhausted and nearly falling asleep while making it. I messed around with the drums a little afterwards and added some weird whispers and stuff like that. Simple but effective….? I thought it set a nice tone for an outro so it stuck.
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