Photay – ‘Photay’ (Astro Nautico)

A student of the drums, Evan ‘Photay’ Shornstein (that’s him rocking the Art Garfunkel-esque fro on the cover) is a member of NY’s Makoshine collective and has dabbled in various musical endeavors throughout his 21 years. Here across seven tracks he’s arrived at the most fully realised creation of his relatively short career – a musical bolt from the blue that’s pretty and clever enough to thaw away the cynicism of the iciest of critics. As with much of this era’s finest music, the EP cum mini-album is laden with reference points yet never referential, classic sounding yet fundamentally of its time.

Opener ‘Detox’ drifts in through the morning mists on a wave of field recorded birdsong, fizzing pad swells and a lead line that sounds akin to a sunnier, rearranged version of John Williams’ timeless ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ motif. The track’s dewy eyed ambience and unusually structured beauty eases things in before Shornstein follows by unleashing the potential highlight of the EP with ‘Reconstruct’. Roping in Seafloor on vocals and Ace Mojica on trumpet, this is a criminally neglected summer anthem that should hopefully now receive its dues. With the former’s softly crooning falsetto recalling Toro Y Moi and the latter’s part evoking Floating Points at his funkiest, the resultant piece is nothing short of sublime. Somehow scaling the heights of hooky Pop perfection whilst eschewing obvious structure or overproduction, you’d like to believe that there exists some kind of parallel utopia where ‘Reconstruct’ blares out of every radio in the land.

‘No Sass’ has a similarly earwormy effect, arrpegiated and treated synths combining with keys and vocal licks to meander whimsically through polyrhythmic strctures and varying time signatures. The level of technical proficiency Shornstein clearly holds is apparent on this track and the rest of the EP as a whole, although unlike a lot of other producers that you could classify as ‘IDM’ he doesn’t feel the need to rub your nose in it. His superior musicality instead is merely a tool by which he takes you places others either can’t or don’t think to. ‘Static At The Summit’ is a similar fusion of abstraction and tunefulness, skitting along with playful abandon.

The EP draws to a close with ‘These Fruits These Vegetables’ and ‘Illusion Of Seclusion’ – two longer tracks which further showcase Shornstein’s range and ear for dynamics. ‘These Fruits…’ begins with another gleefully sparkly lead line, before breaking down tastefully into a Dub Reggae interlude that gradually drifts into a twinkling shimmer of beachside wind chimes. ‘Illusion…’ meanwhile reverts to the almost pastoral stylings of the opener, with its forest floor opening bringing to mind the likes of Boards Of Canada amongst others. There’s time though for a few detours in mood and tempo in the track’s runtime of six plus minutes; as we get iridescent 8-bit,  shuffling tribal percussion and emotive chords before the close.

Given the wide scope of techniques deployed and the territory explored, this is very much a release with staying power. Where most  young producers generally arrive equipped with either one or the other, Shornstein has exhibited both the ability and the imagination to suggest he has many fruitful years ahead of him.

‘Photay’ is out now on Astro Nautico. Buy it here

Christian Murphy 

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