Wall and Waves stands as the newest project of Paul Michel, an artist distinctive for his work between Mexico and Australia for much of the last decade (most notably as The Omega Point, with his wife Alexandra Moon). Dust – Michel’s first EP under the Walls and Waves banner – is set to be released this week with Alice Springs label Sing Hum. It resolutely signals Michel’s intent to continue the experimental practice that has centred his music thus far.
This is an album emblematic of an experimental, blended approach, in which electronica, funk, neo-psychedelia, dreampop, and Latin instrumentation may exist at once, side-by-side. Even more so, it demonstrates Michel’s close collaborative work with other artists across the boundaries of production, genre, and nation. Despite its generic variances, Michel emphasises that the conceptual foundation of the new record simply comes from “exactly what I want to do…I feel really comfortably making every song very different, with different concepts…I don’t want to stick to a [single] sound.”
That ethos comes across in the record’s entirety – beginning with its first track, “Musique”. Michel describes the process of creating each song as “very free” and “intuitive”. “Musique” is a bold introduction to a use of electronica that continues throughout, becoming one of the album’s notable links between disparate influences. Michel utilises hard bass and percussive instrumentals, and yet the notes remain otherworldly, calling to mind 90s sci-fi film soundtracks. Planted amongst this, we hear chorusing vocals, and guitar that kicks in only after an extended introduction – the primer to a compositional relationship that structures many of the songs to come.
Then, into “Particles”, as high-pitched vocalising is given its first entrance, with a reverberating quality that takes on the qualities of a sigh. The backing chords remain so soft, so light, that the experimental elements of “Musique” are turned here into something more dreamlike. Michel reflects that, “I see waves when I record music, I see waves when I am in the lab [he is a nanotechnology researcher at RMIT].” By the second track, it becomes clear that this wavelike aspect is the guiding musical force of the album.
“Look Into My Eyes” continues in the vein of high-pitched vocals stretching through English lyrics, with steady, sharp beats propelling the rhythm forward. Its recurring “ayayayay” soundings provide, once more, a Latin element that sounds almost call-like, producing an effect that makes the listener feel as though they are floating in an indeterminate, echoing space.
“Dancing Makes Me Feel Alright” is a departure from the first part of the record, as it opens with confident guitar that centres the instrument for the first time. Its beat remains propellant, and the quick, changeable notes move us closer towards Michel’s funk roots. The vocals are slowed, yet remain situated within an otherworldly space – creating a fine contrast between the earthier guitar and the ethereal vocality of Michel’s recording. “My Guitar is So Warm” is a gothic, apocalyptic follow-up – Michel owns that it acts as a sort of “ode” to the “relationship between me and my instrument…It is a kind of meditation to play the guitar.” Despite his growing experimentation with computer-based audio-production, the guitar-playing provides a warm, consistent centre to his work.
Speaking of warm – the next track, “El Avion,” is a beachy, slow adoption of La Femme-esque production. Its female vocals (an artist that reached out to Michel after the release of “Look into My Eyes”) – are a welcome addition to an enjoyable dream-pop investment, that calls to mind Michel’s description of his collection: “it is all very colourful.” “El Avion” is also notable for its combination of English and Spanish vocals, as in his previous work (across both Mexico and Australia), Michel had only sung in English. Now, he happily professes his bilingualism, and sees an integrated expression of the two languages as one of “joy.” This is certainly a joyous track to listen to.
“Freeways” is another highlight – electronica, again very 90s, and holding strong resemblance to artists like Air and Saint Etienne. Its sampling, and the whispers that punctuate its audio, particularly create a sense of those associations. Michel’s first fully electronically produced track, he is highly enthused about the process of its inception. “Freeways” originated from a COVID cross-national project with friends, one of whom was in Paris, and the other in New York (both also Mexican). Two samples were provided to all participants, so that individual recordings would possess a union, and a link that would ultimately comprise a greater, combined collaborative work. Sadly, that album never came about. Happily, we still get “Freeways.” Its use of a drum machine, and Michel’s clear enthusiasm for the chords of Kraftwerk and Radiohead, combine into a track that readily displays an enthusiasm for what he terms “a mini world in a device…the computer.”
And then we have our final track: “Isolation Interlude”, which opens with what could be feet marching upon the sand, but is, of course, more drum machine. Again, its sampling is striking, with the sounds of the sea; birds; faint cries, mixed into an intermingling mass. It is ambient, but captivating. Listening to it again, I am reminded of what Michel responds when queried as to why he is resistant to working in scientific industry: “I don’t like the monotony of repeating an action.” To be sure, mindless repetition is nowhere on this record. At times, however, it edges towards hypnosis.