Jeff Dodson aka Defrag has recently released his 13-track album ‘Float’, on Hymen Records. We asked him to run us through it track by track.
After taking a detour to produce music for videogames, film and television, Defrag returns with a new album packed with flourishing synths, beautiful vocals, melodies and atmospheric rhythms blending IDM and techno.
Float is essentially an album about different extinction events. ‘Descent’ and ‘Concrete Face’ (a reference to cyanotic skin effect) is the individual end event. ‘Lighthouse’, ‘Glass Ship’ and ‘Surface Kraken’ are nautical Lovecraftian endings.
‘We are Shadows’ and ‘Fire and Stone’ are both nuclear holocausts. ‘Event’ is the extinction of the stars, ‘Square’ and ‘Circle’ are AI themed endings, and ‘Open Seas’, ‘Float’, and ‘Atlas’ are all environmental flood events.
I’ve always been a fan of album flow and track order, and I usually begin an LP with an intro track. I think it’s a great introduction to the style of the release and harks back to when listening to an LP start to finish was an event.
Descent lays this mood as a progressively evolving track. My favorite subtlety on the main ARP 2600 arpeggio is triggered to offset on both 1 bar, and one specific digital synth sting that occurs starting mid track.
It gives a movement to the arp that makes each bar unique, as the track builds and the downbeat shifts. Thematically, the lyrics begin the album on a metaphorical suicide setting up the release as a trip through end events.
This track was produced in Ableton Live, layering more natural percussion kits sculpted in BFD on top of the initial build of synthetic percussion, with some underlying dubstep flavors from a custom Reaktor patch from Sean Price called sinister minister.
‘The Lighthouse’ was another track that manifested from working with vocal elements to hybridize the sound.
The big fat bass came from Arturia’s Oberheim SEM V layered with Distressor compressed BFD percussion. This track was influenced by an HP Lovecraft short story The White Shipand sets up the following track ‘Glass Ship’.
The vocal processing is multiple layers of myself and my wife, which was then warped and stretched heavily in Ableton Live, to align the formants and transients and to give it a one voice feel.
This is the single of the album and the track that we produced a video for.
Glass Ship has a deliberate out-of-phase stereo image of the main percussion for the first 47 seconds until the main body of the track kicks in. All the layers expand to fit a full stereo image, without any comb filtering, to open the track up.
We then have more arpeggio from the ARP 2600 tracked in Abelton Live with supporting vocals and strings from the ‘East West Choirs’ and ‘Hollywood Strings’ series. This was fairly straightforward composition-wise, with some subtle granular processing on the main hat’s mid-track to glitch out the 4/4 pattern, without pulling from the hypnotic progression.
The entire intro build is from an old water damaged Prophet 600 played by Noah Andrade. It was out of tune from starting cold, so required slowly pitching down in Ableton for the entire build of the first minute to get it in key with the rest of the track.
This added a disturbing build and is probably the most Braindance influenced track on the release with strong Rephlex label inspiration.
Arturia Spark was used for most of the vintage percussion and additional hardware detuned outro, from the water damaged Prophet.
The intermission track on the release, is a combination of the sinister minister Reaktor ensemble for the mid/side processed LFO bassline. The percussion was bounced through Kontakt’s ‘The Finger’ using the comb filter synth processing. That, combined with time stretching, achieved the start and stop glitched percussion.
The main growing that you faintly hear in the initial intro of the track is children at a playground. Processing it through some grain clouds and distortion gave a really organic creature vibe and the rest of the track is essentially freestyle over this bed. Crotales style percussion for additional tone, brings the track to a close.
WE ARE SHADOWS
‘We are Shadows’ and ‘Fire and Stone’ are a diptych of nuclear holocaust inspired tunes, continuing the totally upbeat feel-good vibe of the album. ‘We are Shadows’ is the first track I used to introduce the concept of a story through its lyrical content.
It’s the journey of a natural day and an approaching shockwave from a nuclear blast. The track begins with natural environmental foley and adds more layers, as the mood shifts darker and darker. This track features a similar shifting arpeggio to the opening track ‘Descent’. There’s also heavy BFD percussion, layered with Dalek style ring modulator processing to the vocals for the closing chorus.
FIRE AND STONE
This track is the second half, and follow up of ‘We are Shadows’. This duo is the most vocal of the release. As ever, we employed heavy use of the ARP 2600, Sinister Minister and Oberheim again, which I would almost call the sonic identity of this release.
There is heavy EQ and spatial processing to maximize the isolation of the instruments in space and includes an effect (offset left and right channel by a few ms delay) to create an ultra-wide stereo presence.
Then there’s a cameo of Plogue chipsounds at 1:52 for the vintage bridge pads…
I wanted to include a heavily modular designed track, but have it formatted to fit with the rest of the release. Most of the percussion is the Make Noise DPO module sampled into NI Battery and then resampled to process more with time stretching.
The piano is all Ivory 2, probably my favorite and most versatile piano library (outside of the real deal). I think the modular’s hard, electronic, harsh overtones and harmonics make for an incredibly dark design, and the track’s lyrics follow suit.
‘Circle’ and ‘Square’ are another sync’d theme pair. ‘Circle’ sets up as an intro for its longer brother ‘Square’. I didn’t really want to have a metal track on the release, but I wanted to use guitars again as an element somewhere. There’s a counterpoint of the clean synth motif and it drops to short guitar stabs, before a relaxing bridge in the mid-section.
‘Square’ is the longest track on the album, and has the most evolution throughout the track. The main build is about the 4 counterpoint end bar sequences. All are converted 3DS max 3d files, interpreted as raw audio.
The most interesting sections are cut out into four motifs that relate. They act as an end of bar voice until two minutes, where the track transitions more into a progressive melody. Later in the track, the bassline changes up keeping the upper motif and building it back amongst all the other elements.
The main synth at 3 mins uses BitSpeek as an additional processing layer adding an almost vocoder-inspired saw feel into the synth that is constantly trying to follow the pitch of the input.
‘Open Seas’ utilized the broken Prophet 600 as the main bed of sustained harmony, as the track has short but strong moments of melody on top. The pots of the Prophet are trash and the LFO constantly goes out of sync with the track’s BPM, making for an almost Boards of Canada vibe.
The album title track has an almost optimism vibe, with the short vocal stabs from East-West Choir word builder. It features child-like mockery intro drops into the main synths of a MatrixBrute controlled by a Push2.
A synthwave-style Jupiter bassline is followed by a stop and start BFD patterned breaks. The flam/tom transition was really important in the track as it flows the percussion into the next bar, with an essential pause and crash that pushes the entire chorus forward.
‘Atlas’ and ‘Float’ actually switched places as the final track late in mastering. It carried the Jupiter basslines and similar driving synthwave feel, but had a stronger outro that I felt served as a better full-stop to the end of the release.
‘Float’ also ends on an almost optimism note, while ‘Atlas’ sets up a similar optimism ending and pulls out the rug with the final three-note melody.
Buy Defrag’s album Float on Bandcamp.
If you got this far, you probably enjoy the ARP 2600 as much as Defrag. Read our review on the wonderful Antonus emulation.