Album Walkthrough: Perth rising stars Feels detail their debut album, Water Level
On their debut album, the Perth production pairing - who also lead production group WOMPP - share 11 tracks of experimental electronica.
We've been behind Perth-based electronic pairing Feels since day-dot; their craft in creative, intricate electronica evidently on an entirely new level since their 2017 debut Prior Engagement. In the two years since, however, Elise Reitze-Swensen and Rosie Taylor have grown and evolved into an entirely different beast, whether it be musically - which we'll detail shortly - or just as visible members of the Australian electronic society and its community-built roots; launching WOMPP (Women of Music Production Perth) as a platform for female, trans and non-binary musicians across West Australia to explore musical creativity in a safe, Feels-run space.
There's plenty more to say about WOMPP and it's something we've covered fairly extensively in the past, but today we're here to celebrate Feels for their musical output, which just became elevated to the next level thanks to the release of their debut album, Water Level, last Friday. Spanning 11 varying tracks with showcase Feels' production prowess and a knack for crafty, intricately-layered electronica, the package details their extensive growth as a musical pairing since their debut EP Emerald back in 2017, showcasing exactly how far they've come in what's a pretty short time packed full of new ventures and experiences.
Enlisting collaborators new and old - Pakistani musician ZĀN (who is quickly becoming an in-demand collaborator in the US playing SXSW); Perth-based Joan & The Giants; rising musician MISSY; experimental PC pop musician LÂLKA - Water Level is a dizzying combination of Feels' distinct sound and its ability to hold strong on a solo, purely instrumental level, and contrastingly, how they're able to shape and mould their sound depending on the talent they're working with - the percussive beats morphing into slow-stomping R&B and quick-firing, PC Music-adjacent electronica within the space of five minutes.
Just take the album's opening run, for example. On Lasers, ZĀN's instantly recognisable vocal is a buttery and smooth as ever, injecting a swooning R&B touch to Feels' percussive flow that on Karijini, is fleshed out into two minutes of high-octane experimentalism; Feels' distinct creativeness on feature display for the first of many times on the record - the saccharine sweet Piha, Sacred Coals, Binary Bounce other examples. On Circles, Joan & The Giants layer Feels' production with a pop hook amongst the record's strongest, while on Fine China, pop experimentalist and BIGSOUND favourite LÂLKA takes the sound into almost hip-hop territory - spoken vocals and theatric verses morphing into a dark and brooding comparable to PC Music's saccharine hyper-pop.
"Water is fluid and forever changing; it can be tiny droplets one second and the next, part of an ocean journeying around the world. The music on this album reflects this theme and for me personally explores my ongoing connection to water, having lived on the coast of Western Australia my whole life," says Elise on the record, before Rosie continues: "We have explored many musical states in this album - upbeat and frantic, dark and cinematic, hard-hitting and pop. This album exemplifies our interest in many different types of music production, all the while keeping the Feels signature sound."
Here, in an album walkthrough, Feels break down the concepts and creation of Water Level one song at a time, dissecting its inner themes as they go. Dive into the record below, keep an eye on Feels and the greater WOMPP label as they prove a force to be reckoned with in 2020 and beyond, and try not to lose yourself in their warping, hyper-experimental beats:
Water Level is designed to set the scene for the sound world of this album. I (Elise) started writing this track after travelling in southern Western Australia. I decided to explore the samples and textures collected on her travels and build custom water instruments to use across the whole album. Water Level is somewhat cinematic, but with room to have a dance during the bass drops. With the order of this album, we liked to imagine the listener moving through these levels as if they were in a game.
Lasers (feat. ZAN)
Lasers gives a platform for featuring vocalist ZĀN to explore queer identity. “Lasers is about letting go of the toxicity in your life. For queer folk, realising that you have outgrown the spaces you grew up in, is often unavoidable. The relationships the might have helped you find yourself then, are now holding you back. Who you are is too expansive and too complex to be squeezed into such a small space.” - ZĀN.
This track was written in mid-2018 and used to be a live show favourite before ZĀN jumped on for the collab with us. We are always excited to share stories from ZĀN, as they are such a talented artist with so much to say. We are advocates for diversity in music and feel that it is our responsibility to share viewpoints from as many diverse artists as possible.
In 2018, I (Elise) travelled to Karijini National Park as part of my honeymoon. During this trip, I collected samples from the pools of water in the massive gorges in the park. In this track, I explored the sound world of this national park by using these field recordings and trying to recreate the experience of swimming at the bottom of a 100-metre deep gorge. I like to think that the end of this track is climbing back up out of the gorge, where you have forgotten how frustrating it is to hike up incline you so easily slipped down to get to the relaxing pools.
Circles (feat. Joan & The Giants)
On a hot summer afternoon in Fremantle, we had Grace from Joan & The Giants over to collaborate. In the studio, the three of us looked back on failed relationships and how even though these relationships were toxic, it took a while to get out of them. Circles explores broken relationships, juxtaposed against Feels four to the floor pop production, suggesting that even failed relationships have a positive side.
Bad4me (feat. MISSY)
In January this year, we were undertaking a studio residency at Red Bull HQ in Auckland, New Zealand. We had MISSY in for a feature vocal and played around with some darker sound design. During our studio time, we got onto the theme of liking someone who is bad for you and decided to take the tonality into even darker territory to have even more fun with this idea. Working with MISSY was so easy as she is a producer too. We got buzzed on Red Bull in between recording and had a good laugh during the ASMR whisper section of the song!
After our Red Bull studio residency, we booked out a beach-side shack on the cliffs of Piha, New Zealand to finish off the rest of our writing trip. We went to the beach every morning to surf and then wrote music for the rest of the day. In Piha, we tried to capture the bubbly beachside surroundings by exploring more water samples and a dance vibe. I (Rosie) was having a lot of fun making Elise laugh speaking in a baby voice while we were writing. We found it so funny that we decided to sneak a recording of baby voice ‘Piha’ into the track for our own lols. Now when we hear it, we are taken back to those New Zealand times.
Fine China (feat. LÂLKA)
Earlier this year we were in Brisbane for a weekend to play a festival. The weather was really bad at the event ended up getting called off. Our friend LÂLKA was also playing at the festival so we all had the day off and decided to have a studio session. I (Elise) had been
working on this track called Fine China, which I was thinking could work with a rap feature. We lucked out getting LALKA on this track because everything fell into place and she was able to sing and rap. I loved that the theme of Fine China was able to influence the lyrics and that LÂLKA was given a platform to explore themes of fierce confidence in minority identities, but also allowing room for a more PC Music meets Britney Spears collab.
We started writing this track in January this year while we were in Piha, New Zealand. We were so stoked on the opening hook that we were sure this would end up the highlight of the album. We ended up getting so pissed off and stuck with this track we abandoned it and continuously revisited in the studio and during travel for SXSW in America. It is so interesting that ideas that come to you so easily can be the hardest to finish. After giving up on it, we were able to come back to it with a new creative lense and take it in a completely different direction. This is definitely our busiest most intricate track on the album and very special to us even though it isn’t as accessible to all ears ;)
We wrote this track in collaboration with MISSY in the Red Bull Studios, New Zealand. This collaboration came so easily, we had the vocal line and production down within a couple of hours and spent the rest of the day recording and having fun with the bubbly vibe. MISSY is an incredible songwriter and works insanely fast, we were so blown away we asked her to try for another collaboration the next day (Bad4me). This track was so fun to make because we got to explore our more pop side and also a more light-hearted topic of vocals. This track was the first time we had used a bullwhip sample and we made a pact that we would include a bullwhip on every track on the album.
Binary Bounce was written in 2018, but it felt the more forward-thinking from our older music so we couldn’t ignore it in this body of work. The sound design of this track was the first time we had explored a more video game/quirky PC synth design and it was really a turning point for all of our writing in 2019. The concept behind the album is for the audience to move through the different water levels of our created water world - somewhat like a game. This is our first Water Level and when we started to get more in-depth with water sampling and detailed custom synthesis design before starting the composition process.
We had to finish off this album with a bad-ass, punchy track and it was always gonna be Super Powers that fulfilled this role. Firstly, because ZĀN lets listeners go away with a feeling ‘you are a superhero, no matter what your identity is!’. A lot of what we do as Feels and WOMPP is about instilling confidence in people, so we wouldn't be being true to ourselves if this wasn’t the impact of the last track. Secondly, because this piece started as a delicate Piano solo I (Elise) had written over the summer holidays 2018-19. I find it funny to see how an idea can transform into a hard-hitting electronic track after starting as a conventional piece of classical composition. We love that musical expression can take so many different forms and that we can take our love for all genres of music and let them be part of our Feels influence.
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