Returning to the Seattle-based label that has served as the home for a pair of his previous EPs, Kumori (2014) and Daydream (2015), Super Magic Hats’ colourful and propulsive beats offer an absorbing narrative throughout Separation’s exploratory 10-song set. While his productions continue to carry a bright and generally warm tone, there’s also a stronger undercurrent of melancholy and a heightened awareness of displacement. The themes of emotional uncertainty, insecurity, and disorientation surrounding transition are all tackled through Super Magic Hats’ whimsical instrumental motifs, floating melodies, lush textures, and transportive beats. Most of Separation was originally written using an iPad app created by Korg called Gadget, a medium that allowed these songs to take initial shape while traveling by train around Melbourne’s inner north. Through this ever-evolving creative process and a writing period covering a year full of transitions and self-discovery, a larger sense of uncertain movement and identity pervades the album.
The album leads off with “Transpose,” a song that organically unveils dreamy synths, expressive guitars, and shuffling beats to provide foundation for vocals that add an illuminating air of intrigue to the song. Thematically revolving around the feeling of helplessness in situations outside your own control, Super Magic Hats handles this frustrating notion through twisting synth lines and swelling, brooding atmospheres. “We Can Change the World” provides an optimistic follow-up with bubbling melodies based upon the concept of being inspired by the people around you. The song is one of three songs, alongside “Beautiful” and “Crazy For You”, that can also be found on Daydream, Super Magic Hats’ late 2015 EP that served as Separation’s early appetizer. New tracks “Incomplete” and “Because Of You” further explore the expansive range of Super Magic Hats’ aesthetic, the former leading with a spacious, slower tone and a yearning vocal that conveys a sense of loss, and the latter proving to be one of his brightest songs to date with a joyful stuttering beat and a wide-eyed mentality that signals new love.
The second half of the album is dominated by new compositions that fully elaborate upon Separation’s emotional narrative. “Fading Still” tackles the fear of becoming stagnant in life and fighting this with an urge explore the world outside, fittingly opening with the repeated lyric “take me away” atop a beat that gradually builds into a beautiful widescreen soundscape. The idea that as a happy experience passes, it becomes indistinguishable from a dream forms the basis of “Akogare”, a contemplative and embracing song named for the Japanese term that refers to yearning or longing. Closing track “Melt” ends the album in fitting fashion, with an lonely acoustic guitar riff wrapped around blissful shifting synths yielding a sad but not entirely defeated finale; head down, headphones on, feet shuffling forward – the song provides the soundtrack to accepting your surroundings and resigning yourself to fate. Inspiration for “Melt” was also found in the final episode of the Japanese anime series Last Exile, with Masterton infusing his love and respect for anime and video games into Separation’s own cinematic story here, and over a number of references scattered throughout the album.
Super Magic Hats: Rob Masterton
Vocals: Ia, Hatsune Miku
Mastering: Andrei Eremin
Artwork: Tessa Chong
with thanks to Hush Hush Records