/h/t/a/ “Stratus” (self-released)

Straddling the thin divide between beat-driven ambient soundscape and instrumental hip hop, and even bordering New Age at points, /h/t/a/ of Columbus, Ohio – a place that I have been to one time but barely made an impression on me – crafts computer soundtrack pieces for moderns. I’m also going to give /h/t/a/ cool points for the logo. I like it! It hovers above a purple-tinted photo of a cloud formation, like a beacon from some otherworldly or extraterrestrial place. It’s a bit ominous, frankly, but in a good way.

Like a mashup between Reservoir Sounds’ A.M. Breakups and someone like Chungking Mansions, /h/t/a/ surely knows his way around a beat and a melody, and they punctuate each other throughout Stratus, his first official release. The tracks don’t last terribly long, and are often sketches of what could be larger pieces. Some, like side-B standout and Tobacco-worshipping “Sweep,” are just begging for a rapper to sling sick verses on top of. “Nicotine” has a similar vibe – for all of its ten seconds when music plays. (Nine seconds of it are silence.)

Some of it plays out like delightfully wispy vaporwave, like “Why Did the Centipede Hurt” or “Stratus,” both of which foreground synthesizers while the latter incorporates a slow jam beat/bassline. These moments are feather light, as if some teenage wizard shouted “Wingardium leviosa” (that’s “levi-O-sa,” not “levio-SA,” jagweed, and only in your best proper English accent) at the songs, and they just hovered there, unsure of their new airborne abilities. I’ll tell you what they do – they relax the sheez out of you, that’s what.

The cassette itself is a deep lilac purple, and comes in an edition of 25. I have lucky number 7. And did you know? /h/t/a/ stands for “hanging tree algorithm.” Now you’re as smart as me!

No you’re not.

--Ryan Masteller