James Place
Living On Superstition






Living On Superstition is the full-length LP debut of New York-based James Place, the globetrotting moniker for synthesist Phil Tortoroli. An analog affair made of circumlocutory Casio crests, densely droning dioramas and futuristic nuclei harboring bleepy melodies and punctilio tones, it is a fitting inclusion to Mexico City’s Umor Rex Records and its infinite tangent plane gyring around cosmopolitan vortices. Released on both a limited edition of white wax (300 copies) and a download version, Living On Superstition can be purchased and streamed at Bandcamp as usual. Not unlike label mate Charlatan’s Local Agent (2014) with its polygonal pulses and dixie dribs, James Place makes sure to emit his fair share of galactic notions… poured into an equally polysemous work. Whether it is diffractive verglas reflections, granular anhydride arabesques or amniotic lariats, the eight songs smell of chemicals, flicker under sodium lights, bubble in exiguity. The phylogenetic cornerstone exemplifies a nutritious superfluid of avulsions, better known genre-wise as sylphlike New Age, caustic Glitch percolations, stardust-alloyed Space Ambient timbres and – drop the hate, please –voracious Vaporwave. Umor Rex’s press blurb mentions the acroamatic fundaments of Seattle’s Panabrite as another stylistic simile, and yes, I can sense where this comparison is originating from; drowning in synths, underlining their afterglows, Living On Superstition is more of a turbulent centrifuge than a stabilized concrete jungle. Its eight principal tracks are analyzed below, followed by an approximation of its embroidered disaccords and exciting cleavages.


Pearl white inflections retaliate rectilineal edges. Designed by Daniel Castrejón.


An amphibology stacked with a pun, and all of this just because of the additional letter "u", Another Mourning In America puts the circadian halides of James Place on the map, endemically speaking. Scything dark matter synths distantly resemblant to vuvuzela-oid cataracts, twisted convulsions of Gothic organs and a more than a tad uneasy rhythm aorta made of argentine metallics churning along not unlike the final respite before two venomous street gangs clash into each other, it is the silvery chromaticity with its high contrasts and pitch-black bays that erect skyscraper pillars and faux-leeway atmospheres before the inner eye. Prominently aided by the follow-up High Rise (Rainier), the formerly autochthonous granuloma turns into a strikingly mucous rivulet of reverberated alkaline hydrolyses, disk saw guitar riffs, incidental handclaps and analogue jitters serving as the confining, albeit aural, vignette to this high voltage cannelure. Moments of incandescent euphony – or simulations thereof – reach the senescent sinews of steel, translating into a polyvalent outlook over the city center. The adjacent Sadie’s Tears meanwhile lets the intrinsic aura morph into an etiolated epithelium of Oval-esque suntrap synths within majestically prismatic snare undercurrents and vertiginous longitudinal ventiducts, with Simmered And Brewed succumbing to a wondrously caproic Ambient thiazole supercharged with retrosternal sapphire reflections, pluvial harbor basins and washed out chiptune placentae, all of them thinly caulking the industrial complexion in favor of cajoling futurism.


Side B maintains the glaucous anathema while at the same time nurturing a chlorotic profusion that oozes through the superficial fissures audio-wise. Overcast And Burned is an elasticized 6/8 amethystine with two very distinct anticlimactic opposites: there is a bone-dry yet grinding rhythm injected into the base frame which is then doomed to encounter Space-Age pericarps of whistling pulses from afar. The backdrop remains black, though lit by the reciprocation between semi-vocoded cherubims and viridian sunbursts. The parallax strata are key to this song, for the purposefully parochial ingredients never seem to come into conflict with each other, remaining in spheres of their own. The consecutive tryst called Sense Of Ending is probably the most curious addition to the album’s range of flavors. Heavily oneiric enchantments of benthic viscosity, serrated with enigmatic tone sequences and rounded off by a harp-like six-note genuflection before a cinematic scope, this here tune radiates a tawny illuminant, sports an unreal agglutination, prepares the literal eye-opening vitrectomy; it is the silkiest quandary of James Place’s LP. Afterwards, Lyra’s Grin shakes off the petrifying cobweb and leads to a vestibule awash with light and truly positive aureoles. Dusty and warm from the outset, with a gelatinous 4/4 beat in its epicenter, the song becomes a jocund tunnel vision despite its midtempo physiognomy. Hazy rays of light complete with adjuvants made of thermal heat, the uplifting appearance is still fond of technocracy, what with its heating system circulating pumps and polyphonic tendrils of sweetness. Even the finale Behind Windows is able to absorb some of the positive vibes. It may start with prolonged snake charmer protuberances and eerie wind gusts, true, but it soon enough ventures into erbaceous 16-bit prongs and rhythm-shifting coxswain vesicles before machine-like drone bursts put an end to the suddenly panchromatic vision.


Living On Superstition is both a faithful and blindfolding title for an album whose synthetic quilting doesn’t leave much room for things and objects to be superstitious… at first. The human factor is annihilated and ostracized most of the time, the many surfaces, glassy areas and lucent moments of life-spending light cannot wash away the otherwise mephitic antipodes; allusions of recalcitrance, austere erethism, crepuscular nodes between aural street corners and perpendicular monoliths make James Place’s metropolitan locale a highly ambiguous affair. Stolid and phlegmatic, drowning in contentment on the one hand, then open to a sun-dappled technicolor circumambience on the other hand, followed by the annealed lucency of the complemental chiptune globs, Living On Superstition is less of a raging current and more akin to a polyhedric hydrazine, an anhydride with crystalline remainders of the rich stylistic heritage its alluvial soils are encapsulating. The photometry of a city is flawlessly achieved and only softly guided by Daniel Castrejón’s front artwork. The sudden drops of temperature – both album-spanning and within a song’s existence – allow James Place to keep his intermixture bustling and ebullient, with the occasional portentous gravity sewn into the cityscape. Living On Superstition carries the weight and the chances brought with the comprehensive genre cocktail. It fails as a dedicated post-apocalyptical vision, doesn’t feel the need to epitomize seraphic superimpositions either, and most certainly isn’t prone to delineate a limewashed future of coruscating brightness. However, with all of these leanings, trends and tendencies taking place at once, and at all times, the concrete moloch is so diversified, spectral, calamitous and eclectic that a certain sentiment grows within the listener, now serving as the quasi-flamboyant image and evocative conclusion: superstition after all.


Further listening and reading: 

  • Living On Superstition is available to purchase and stream at Bandcamp
  • Artist & label on the Twitterzzz: @tgrs @UmorRex


Ambient Review 418: James Place – Living On Superstition (2015). Originally published on Feb. 25, 2015 at AmbientExotica.com.