Stumbling Upon the Sublime in the New Golden Age of Music
Before we go deep into exactly how and why I am currently obsessed with an EP by South Korean beatmaker SOWALL (pictured above), let me get something out of the way: Sometimes I listen to "Lo-Fi Hip Hop Anime Chill Beats To Study and Relax To."
For those not familiar with this genre, it's a tongue-in-cheek meme born out of A.I.-recommended playlists.
And the Grammy goes to……. Lo-Fi Hip Hop Anime Chil Beats To Study and Relax To— 002 (@punkzbunny) January 29, 2018
This meme validates a wonderful phenomenon that we are living in real time—technology with seemingly infinite capacity to create, discover, share and collectively enjoy content on our own terms. It has never been easier to make music. And share that music. And make video to support that music.
This new power balance can sometimes feel like we're in a dark age of music. The explosion of aspiring amateur average artists. No-soul-having content from creators looking to capitalize on the streaming economy. Recommendation engines that keep us in sub-sub-sub-genres like "Lo-Fi Hip Hop Anime Chill Beats To Study and Relax To."
But every once in a while, a trip down an algorithmic rabbit hole unexpectedly connects us with content on an astonishingly deep human level. Something that gives us "the feels" every time we listen to it. Its then that I remember we're living in a new golden age of music.
It was a series of links that first led me to a music video for SOWALL's first single, Favorite (Instrumental).
YouTube led me to many more of her videos showcasing her finger-drumming technical skills as well as simple but powerful music videos. Which, of course, linked me to her album on Apple Music.
At work, I find myself using this EP as a way to escape. I'm able to isolate and re-center myself through SOWALL's music in moments of distraction.
While most of the lyrics are in Korean, the album doesn't sound distinctly Korean (some of her singles are listed as K-Pop). But it also doesn't sound like a record produced from a traditional beatmaker in the United States either. In this way, it helps me get away from my desk. Away from my Midwest office building. And it inspires me to think about American culture as an outsider—a critical mind-set to practice when attempting to create something new.
So far, SOWALL has released this lone EP, and a few singles. I look forward to the algorithms that will send me to her next release, and recommendations from strangers introducing unexpected surprises from unexpected places.