Releasing on the new and aptly-named label Trouble in Utopia, Valiska’s On Pause details a series of life-changing events which took place between 2016 and 2017. Although the electronic music is at times stark, bleak and empty, with cold blue orbs masquerading as frail, staccato-strung notes, there are occasional glimpses of something more positive just up ahead, and it doesn’t want to stay in the depths of dissonance.
Bluebird skies fade until they disappear, like a parched note that’s lost all sustain, and all of a sudden, life just changes. Hijacking the blue sky is a dull, obdurate grey, the kind of grey that coats a silver bullet, which settles upon the skin and potentially turns into something like depression. Sometimes, you don’t so much get over something as learn to adapt to it. Life goes on; the music still has to rise in the morning.
Rainy tones leak out of the music, but so does a careful optimism, and the music’s had the opportunity to grow during its time of hardship. It’s all part of a learning process, albeit a strict one. The sobering times have led Valiska to develop sobering tones, and he sensitively explores cooler, musically-mature themes which revolve around a siege mentality; a strengthening rather than a weakening. Both he and the music are determined to push through this, and On Pause is a record of sorrow and struggle. The notes push and heave; nothing is coming easily. Although the melodies are soft and as delicate as a vase (a draught of thin air could be their downfall, resulting in them disintegrating), they’re also heavy with effort, and a seeping melancholia drips from its downcast eyes. Uncertainty is a constant plague, but that also gifts the music a certain unpredictability.
Glass ornaments had once decorated the open space, lovingly arranged on top of the dresser, but now they lie broken, and these dislocated melodies are the fragmented pieces that litter the floor, the leftovers of lost warfare. Defeat sounds like this, but On Pause is, eventually, all the stronger for its loss; it wouldn’t exist in its current form without the arrival of trouble and loss, and that’s a positive. If the spirit wants it badly enough, the greatest victory will come after the most crushing of defeats. All the while, the music whispers like a lover or a good friend:
Try again, try again,
Take care, take care…
Structurally, a well-defined skeleton props up the music. Valiska uses a Moog Sub 37 synthesizer (which is the crux of the sound, lending the music an isolated, mournful and eerie tone) and then runs a list of looping melodies through the tape, although everything is done in an almost minimal way. Hisses and crackles also help to increase the music’s fragility; we don’t always realize just how precious someone or something is until it’s gone. Sometimes, a lone melody is all that’s left, a completely isolated thing, just a vein-thin strand on a fog-shrouded isle.
The last two years have aged the music. Its once blonde hair is now salt-sprayed, and things are only going to age further…but it has matured and developed, becoming what it was always supposed to be, and its beauty isn’t skin deep. Life isn’t a perpetual smile, but it is an experience.