Dylan Khotin-Foote has been oscillating between lo-fi house and moth-eaten ambient music for nearly a decade. In four albums released between 2014 and 2020, the Canadian electronic musician known simply as Khotin established a remarkably consistent palette, not so much developing his style as immersing himself more in it, as one would on a well-worn but exceptionally cozy sofa. He likes the muffled drum hits, plush subs, and washed-out pads of the Casio SK-1, a legendary basic-sampling keyboard from the 1980s. On his debut LP, Hello WorldKhotin leaned heavily on vintage Roland drum machines and classic house grooves, but in the years since, he’s slowed down the tempo and thrown a thick blanket over the percussion without playing too much with the essence of his sound. His moods are as invariable as his toolbox: dreamy, slightly distracted, and unmistakably bittersweet, but filigree with something akin to optimism.
liberation spiritKhotin’s first album since 2020 finds you well, follows a move from Vancouver to his hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, but it’s hard to discern what, if any, impact those 700 miles may have had on his music. A hint of childlike fantasy pervades the music; The flute-like wires trace lazy circles in the air, and the squishy contours of their synths occasionally bring to mind Play-Doh or Silly Putty. Like Boards of Canada, it uses almost subliminal tape-warping effects for vividly nostalgic purposes, and autobiographical snippets litter the album like yellowed snapshots you might pull from the pages of a spiral-bound photo album. In the opening “HV Road,” she takes a recording of a family vacation to British Columbia’s Okanagan Lake, the voices of her younger siblings mixed with chirping crickets. (“Why are you recording again?” one of them asks with barely concealed contempt.) And “3 pz” borrows his strangely bewildered, heavily accented speaking voice (“You got your suit dirty… My God, you got dirty.” the dress… This guy is so annoying, you bother me, do you understand?”) from a tape for English students that she found at the house of her grandparents, who immigrated from Russia in the 1980s.
The album’s pulses are practically cryonic, but the music is surprisingly upbeat. Slow drum machines and languid breakbeats are frequently intertwined with silver accents and cascading metallic accents. On “Lovely,” a graceful, bleepy arpeggio embroiders flourishes around a rhythm that trudges like boots in slush; on “Life Mask,” a tranquil landscape of Harold Budd-esque piano and ambient bird calls is punctuated by fast-paced dub delay gyrations. Wherever you listen, layered rhythms—shaky tremolo effects, pitter-pat hi-hats, breathy vocal samples—spread out and crash, like ripples on the surface of a lake.
Some of the best tracks use the mercurial sound of the TB-303 as an organizing principle. “Home World 303” displays contrapuntal acid lines, one squelchy and the other ping; “Computer Break” tilts a main portamento in a back-and-forth motion. It’s a smart addition to the playbook – music as confusing as Khotin benefits from one point of focus. Like his previous albums, the subdued liberation spirit it’s so uniformly pretty that it doesn’t always leave a strong impression. But two clues point to possible new directions for Khotin’s sound. “Techno Creep” begins in cold, sleepy Andy Stott territory, but with the warmth of Balearic guitar and new-age synths, it thaws and blossoms as it goes, like a patch of arctic tundra turning tropical. “Fountain, Growth” begins with a slow-motion acid trance before Montreal’s Tess Roby’s voice fades within earshot, her reverberating sighs as blissfully enigmatic as those of the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser. It’s a dreamy pop distillation of Khotin’s classic sound, and a suggestion that this master of atmosphere might have a future on real songs.
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