RAPHAEL LERAY “Solstitial Memories” (Phinery)

Paris-born, Tokyo-domiciled Raphael Leray has one of the best Bandcamp bios I’ve ever seen: “Raphael Leray is an experimental melodist, engineer, and occasional illustrator….” That description flows with a deft lyricism that’s surprising to find in an artist known mainly for wordless composition. If that were me, I’d print up thousands of business cards with that on it. It’s too good not to pass out to everyone I’d meet.

As a self-proclaimed “experimental melodicist,” there’s a lot to expect in the music unleashed upon the world by one so described. You can’t just knock out a pop tune with some warbly synthesizer and call it a day (I’m looking at you … Weezer, I guess?). Leray’s got it covered, though, don’t you worry, because his music doesn’t screw around in the slightest. It’s intensely obvious that every single note and pattern released on Solstitial Memories was agonized over, the detail scrutinized to a micro degree. In some ways it’s small, personal music, in that it feels insular and particular, a product of one person made for consumption by individuals. But just as you’d find if you bent your head to the ground and observed the great living activity there, if you bend your ear closely to Solstitial Memories, it reveals itself more clearly under examination. 

That’s the magic of the tape. Every moment is a deep, clean breath, every melody a hint of birdsong at sunrise. Even tracks with distinct percussive elements like “Dance I” and “War” invite pure immersion that leaves you feeling refreshed on the other side. I can’t get enough of it – I’ve literally listened to it four times in a row while barely writing this review, because I keep getting distracted by it, and my writing suffers. Sometimes I don’t write good, and it’s because music invades my brain’s writing parts for its own insidious purposes and makes me stupid. Of course, once the music’s off and I shake the haze, I’m back to my good old self again, ready to shout rudely to anyone within earshot how good Raphael Leray is. I get a lot of funny looks at the supermarket.

So I’ll end by shouting at you readers instead, and spare the incredulous onlookers I encounter in public. You won’t find a better entry point to the Phinery aesthetic than Raphael Leray. His work – at times music box–like, at others gloriously meditative – is cut-and-paste gorgeousness. It’s probably hard to be this inventive and still have time to do other things. Like print up business cards or shop for groceries. You know, the basics.

--Ryan Masteller