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Chris Rockaway Goes for the Absurd With Unrealistic

Chris Rockaway and his trusty pal Gizmo.
Chris Rockaway and his trusty pal Gizmo.
Photo provided by Chris Rockaway
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Chris Rockaway is stashed away in Los Angeles, once more in his own world.

You could ask the longtime Houston producer his age and he’ll probably respond with something worth pontificating on. Rockaway talks in riddles every now and then, but when he wants to talk music (or the Rockets), he’s quite to the point.

Actually, scratch that. Chris Rockaway is the human definition of loquacious. He was molded by the word, born to adhere to it. It may have been the very first word he learned out of the womb, besides making sure that not every guitar can do what a keyboard can. Or that every drum doesn’t revolve around the TR-808. Rockaway has spent years crafting sounds with people he has grown to trust: Jack Freeman, the T.H.E.M. collective and more. Each one contains a frequency and vibrancy finely tuned to whatever moment he wants to create. Brooding guitars to soundtrack a future of doom? He’ll give you that. Contort his brain to make the most obscure sounds fit perfectly in an R&B record about love and heartache? He’ll do that too.

For his latest feat, Unrealistic, Rockaway decided to test himself. Bored with conventional instruments, the enigmatic producer decided to use everything around him to create something. “I tried to use source sounds that are totally unconventional,” he says via email. “That's why you might hear a song start with a screwdriver and then hear melodic water drops come or the sound of me hitting my bathroom mirror with a hammer.”

Sure enough, “Stop Everything You’re Doing and Look at Me” is the only “real” song on the album, kicking ’80s-style distortion around pressed keys and a down-swinging melody before fading out in a form of jazz that is better than anything found in La La Land. The longer “Stop Everything” goes on, the more Rockaway’s frustrations begin to seep into the recording. He wants us to know something point blank: Doing things as normally is boring as shit.

“Supervillains Rule the World” leads off with a screwdriver before melodic water drops lead to electric wails and mimicked chimes. Who knew water drops would serve as a proper bass line for a track replete with audio clips that feel like infomercials made in the vein of Dr. Strangelove? “Motherland, NJ” takes pieces of industrial and marries them to synth hues to create a funky groove. Even if he works in unconventional means, Rockaway still manages to make you think as well as dance.

“The idea is not necessarily for these to sound like the source material, but to transcend and become perfect, new instruments in their own right,” he says. “Besides [“Stop Everything You’re Doing and Look at Me”], I think this might be by far the most accessible of my indulgent electronic experiments.”

Perhaps the best moment for this occurs with the suite starting from “Southwest Curtains Exchange” to “Triangulation.” Ranging from minimal to evolutionary, it’s another peek into Rockaway’s cluttered yet always interesting headspace. “Southwest Curtains Exchange” brackets a multitude of sounds around a three-note melody, while “Wayyyy Up” contends with scratched-up coins on top of a building drum pattern.

Even when he wants to come up with glossy, ’80s ready dance-pop like “Ode to Eugenics,” you keep thinking Rockaway is going somewhere else. “Joy And Pain” by Frankie Beverly and Maze could creep up as a shout track. Matter of fact, Gene Peterson’s final call from a Rockets broadcast could slide in a Rockaway production and you wouldn’t even be shocked. That’s what Chris Rockaway does.

Unrealistic is available now on Bandcamp.

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