Of all the ways that Parris could have described his long-awaited debut LP, it’s unlikely that “This is an album built on Pop” is what anyone expected. In recent years, pop tropes have become commonplace even in electronic music’s most experimental corners, but for a producer who’s spent years building his name with dusty, slow-motion beats and bass-infused hybrids, to cite artists like Charli XCX, Lana Del Rey, and Frank Ocean seemed like a surprise left turn.
A native Londoner, Parris has long spoken about club culture and its profound impact on his musical vision. As a child, he was wowed by an uncle who moonlighted as a DJ, along with his massive record collection. Once he was old enough to experience nightlife for himself, Parris dove right in, becoming a regular at foundational dubstep weekly FWD>> when he was only 19. His discography contains releases on vaunted UK labels like The Trilogy Tapes, Hemlock, Idle Hands, and Wisdom Teeth; Soaked in Indigo Moonlight arrives via Can You Feel the Sun, an imprint he’s been running alongside Call Super since 2019. Those reference points might not mean much to mainstream pop fans, but among a certain contingent of dance music’s critical vanguard—think trainsotters who worship Ben UFO and wax poetic about the hardcore continuum—Parris’ resume represents a sort of artistic ideal.
In truth, only the most rigid members of that crowd are likely to be frightened away by Soaked in Indigo Moonlight. The album includes only one blatantly pop turn: first single “Skater’s World.” It’s a bright and bouncy tune that’s more PC Music than Hessle Audio. The off-kilter beat does recall some of UK funky’s more playful moments, but thanks to Eden Samara’s vocals, the sugary song takes on a hyperpop bent, ultimately sounding like vintage Janet Jackson cutting something for the Powerpuff Girls soundtrack. Inspired by a shared love of skateboarding—and the days the two spent running around London with friends and “being hooligans” once lockdown began to lift earlier this year—the track exudes a carefree sense of joy that’s often absent in the heads-down world of UK dance music.
Casting off aesthetic constraints seems to be Soaked in Indigo Moonlight’s core mission. Although the remainder of the album never quite matches the candy-coated energy of “Skater’s World,” Parris does largely steer clear of London’s usual grayscale tones and drab textures, even during more subdued moments. (The only conventionally moody tune is the heavy-lidded “Sleepless Comfort,” whose lush pads and restless skitter are perfect for late-night bouts of existential pondering.) “Movements,” a collaboration with Norwegian/Mexican artist Carmen Villain, is typical of what the album has to offer. Atop a relaxed beat that falls somewhere between house and hip-hop, its airy pads and floaty woodwinds set a mood that’s closer to the flotation tank than the dancefloor, but Parris’ liberal usage of familiar video-game sounds—pretty much everyone recognizes the sound of Mario collecting coins—adds a sense of childlike glee to the proceedings.
If Soaked in Indigo Moonlight was built on pop, that largely manifests in the music’s whimsical nature and Parris’ general refusal to adhere to genre orthodoxy. The wiggly “Contorted Rubber” won’t ever make the Top 40, but its elastic basslines and zipping melodies merrily live up to the song’s title, while the wonky gait of “Laufen in Birkencrocs” evokes images of a sauced birthday clown showing up to a kid’s party with a buzz on. Dubstep and bassweight play a role, but they’re ultimately just two of the colors in Parris’ expansive palette, and once Call Super enters the fray on “Poison Pudding,” the two Brits spend nearly six minutes frantically connecting the dots between ’90s digital dancehall, ravey techno, and the most vibrant strains of IDM. “Crimson Kano” takes a similarly eclectic route, feverishly cycling through assorted drum patterns (and tempos) before collapsing in a heap of satisfied exhaustion.
Like any bout of hyperactivity, Soaked in Indigo Moonlight has a comedown, and the spacious “Frozen Hailstones Underwater” patiently explores a sort of reverb-soaked ambient grime. Even more soothing is LP closer “falling in the waves,” which loops, stretches, and manipulates James K’s vocals into delicate clouds of ethereal bliss. It’s not exactly a pop song, but it is a tender one, and it’s indicative of Parris’ willingness to toss expectations aside and simply follow his own creative impulses, wherever they may lead. The work of artists like Vince Staples, Lil Peep, and Denzel Curry (who were also namechecked in the LP announcement) helped inspire Soaked in Indigo Moonlight, but the album itself—whose title is a reference to the old adage that “only moonlight shows your true reflection”—can only be understood as a window into Parris’ own head (and heart). If taking cues from pop simply means setting pretension aside and doing what you love, perhaps more of Parris’ peers would be wise to follow suit.
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