New York based experimental electronic producer Evan Shornstein, better known by his stage name Photay, is still a relatively unknown name in the music industry. Over the past four years, Shornstein has released a total of three projects almost completely under the radar. 2014 saw the release of his debut self-titled EP, 2016 saw the release of his second EP “Sadie” and this year, Aug. 11 saw the release of his first full album “Onism.” Photay, being a polyrhythmic percussionist with an intuitive and creative thought process, strives to blend the familiar with the unusual in his music. Many of his tracks fuse the world of traditional analog recording with the modern practice of digital recording. Photay regularly layers his own recordings of noises from the great outdoors with digital instruments. The tracks featured on his two EP’s range from jazzy and melodic to quirky and confusing, and it seems that he has taken his experimental nature a step further on “Onism.”
“Inharmonius Slog” is a dreamy and rhythmic cut that combines all the best elements of a typical Photay track. The ambient noise of footsteps on concrete leads into smooth synth riffs and percussion breakdowns and remains a staple underlying feature of the bassline. The middle of the track dips into a minimalistic valley of relaxing melodies that blend perfectly into the following progressions topped off with Photay’s trademark “squeaky” distorted piano samples. Reflective of its name, the whole track moves forward with a consistent and mechanical pace, almost like the ticking of a clock over the course of a long work day.
“Outré Lux” featuring vocals from Madison McFerrin is the most relaxing and surreal experience on the record. The track begins with nostalgic and warm orchestral string progressions that soon meld with deep muffled bass and plucky electronic clicks. McFerrin’s soft and syrupy voice provides an almost ethereal quality to the track that is backed up by the high tone clarinets making up the main melodic fills. The droning, ambient echoes provide a perfect backdrop for the rest of the components and complete the track perfectly.
While there are some strong tracks on the record that play off each other nicely, there are also just as many that don’t live up to the expectations set by the aforementioned.
A prime example is the track “Storm.” It is an ambient and haunting track that manipulates mood effectively, but there isn’t enough complexity within it compared to rest of the record to justify it being a full three-minute track. The only two noticeable components of the track are echoed and whistling vocal samples with the occasional organ fill. This track would be more befitting of an interlude rather than a full cut.
The same applies to “The Balsam Massacre.” This track is another full 3-minute cut that doesn’t feature much variation in its sound. While it does use many interesting distorted horn samples as well as a very smooth and funky saxophone, the whole track feels and sounds like the buildup to something bigger, but that something never comes. The track slowly rises in intensity and then slowly fades back out without much payoff.
Evan Shornstein is one of the most creative minds in the electronic music industry today. While his projects haven’t received nearly as much attention as other ambient electronic artists like Bonobo have, that may change very soon. “Onism” may not be perfect or entirely consistent, but considering Photay’s discography as a whole it is apparent that there is a lot of untapped and interesting potential for his career to grow.
Other great cuts
“Aura”; “Bombogenesis”; “Screens”