Sumsun's psychedelicized memoryscapes
The electronic duo draw on Floridian yearnings
Published: April 7, 2011
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The earliest indicators that Samo Milagro, the recent album by Florida electronic psych duo Sumsun, is indebted to visual art comes via its extravagantly tropical cover, and most importantly, its title. "Samo," as Sumsun founder Judson Rogers notes, is taken from a graffiti-tagging name linked to a young Jean-Michel Basquiat, and "Milagro" references a painting collective that Rogers fondly remembers from his days in Tallahassee. Aside from their collaborative creative activities, Milagros set itself apart with an optical aesthetic that encouraged bright canvases, spawning results that resemble futuristic flora in full bloom. Rogers has taken great inspiration from this visual energy, which Samo reflects in kind. It's a debut founded on imprecise electronic experimental pop, with instruments blending into messy psychedelic designs. "Ambient" hints at the sound, but the word doesn't quite describe the record's verve. It's too luminescent to just fade into the scenery.
In keeping with the strong visual influence, certain tracks on Samo Milagro are deeply tied to images plucked from Rogers' past. Album opener "Ants" was put together when the on-and-off Floridian experienced his "first real fall/winter" while snowed-in on a mountain in North Carolina. Delaying a trip back home to witness the snowfall made him nostalgic. "After a few days, I was really missing palm trees, the beach and my family. That song came out of this longing for warm weather," says Rogers, who is now based in West Palm Beach. "I was trying to superimpose that feeling in my little house. I had the speakers blaring and was trying to make the warmest, most Florida-sounding thing I could." The track's tropical flavors formed the crux of Samo's approach.
There's also "Whales," which primarily revisits a time when Rogers and his friends hit a barren beach one evening and had the water all to themselves. "It is an amazing thing to wade around and look out and see no one else on the beach for as far as you could see," he remembers. "We later jumped a fence and went swimming in a hotel's swimming pool after using their sauna. Again, there was no one around. It felt like this paradise was just for us."
This same sense of youthful liberation is partially reproduced in Sumsun's shows as Rogers and collaborator Edwin Jantunen tinker with samplers, guitars and drum machines, producing vast, time-distorted swirls that flex and fluctuate. Enhancing their work are stop-motion shots of coral manipulated into trippy smears. "With our live show, we try to make it so you can totally zone out and watch the visuals, or you can dance," Rogers says.
Those pictures' ever-changing malleability hit on the same spirit that first drew Rogers to Sumsun's unorthodox approach. While originally working with electronic music, he drew on more conventional pop structures and melodies, but fringe-walking L.A. artists like Flying Lotus soon inspired him to make something more avant-garde and psychedelic, giving him greater room to channel visuals.
"It's not just this square box of pop music where this is a piano, a guitar, the drums," he says. "It's more of a mesh of a sound and putting across an image. It's more sensory to me."
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