Published Mar 13, 2020The latest release from Mexican-American producer Christopher Sky, What It Is, It Isn't, is an understated album that reveals itself to be surprisingly expansive. Sky intricately weaves layered soundscapes that are frequently transportive, if ultimately a little too clean for their own good.
"CZ97" is representative of the record's elegant flow. Featuring, as elsewhere, vibraphone and multiple synths, here a bright post-punk guitar melody and some emotive strings join the propulsive bass line that bolsters the track's skittering rhythm. That this all unfolds so naturally is a testament to Sky's mastery of texture and dynamics.
Although indebted to Boards of Canada and to Sky's fellow L.A. beatmaker Nosaj Thing, this is IDM with all its rough edges thoroughly sanded off, devoid of any sense of tension or risky experimentation. The drums in particular are quite flat, with kicks and snares lacking the punch to lend tracks momentum, and sequenced too simply to engage the brain.
Accordingly, the best cuts are those where percussion is absent altogether. "Under the Waves" and "Travelers Theme" are both gorgeous ambient pieces, creating a huge bed of sound from synth drones, processed guitar and samples of the ocean.
As faint praise goes, describing a work of electronic music as "tasteful" is about as damning as it gets, and the same epithet that has been hurled at Four Tet, Bonobo and others in the past could be applied to the warm pleasantness of What It Is, It Isn't. But while it's definitely more mood-setting than mind-expanding, the richness of Sky's sound design is often a reward in itself. (Aagoo)