Listening to Axis Mundi‘s just-released psy-trance album, One Foot in Fantasy first thing in the morning is a completely different experience from listening to it mid-afternoon after plenty of coffee. It’s interesting either way, but this is music best absorbed by a fully-alert mind.
The album, along with a psy-trance DJ compilation by Axis Mundi wizard Jason Miller, are being handled internationally by Hong Kong and Italy-based distributors, but the other-worldly music is firmly rooted in the local EDM scene.
From the artwork to the song titles to the strange/familiar, biorhythmic/futuristic sounds, Fantasy is a journey through a sonic Wonderland. Some tracks are challenging to access — “Does Not Play Well With Others” layers atonal blasts of instrumentations over a palette of whisper-shuffle low notes. The piece is reflective and moody with, for the most part, no repetitive beat to grab the ear. Perfect for a SciFi soundtrack, not so much for dancing.
But Fantasy is far more than a dance mix. Miller is both a composer an an architect, building songs from a variety of materials, some organic and easy, others jagged and unfamiliar. “The Grudge of Dwarfking Goldemar” is anchored by a menacing pulse that makes the track definitely dancable, but it’s also spacey thanks to high-pitched trills and chirps. There is a ghostly-robotic “Hi-ho, hi-ho” secreted into the mix, but this is no Disney sing-along. Instead, it’s the juxtaposition of rattling bass and ethereal tremelo that relegate this composition to the fantastical territory between worlds.
The 10-plus minute “Twigs of the World Tree” isn’t exactly downtempo, but it is a change of pace. A sluice of rain, a shiver of dry branches and the drone of repetitive beats, along with a few vocal samples, make this a stand-out track for its natural world-meets-mechanical world stance. The listener can almost translate digital sounds — the metallic of synthesizer and the the sweeping whine that could either be theremin or effects — into the sometimes eerie, sometimes haunting soundscape provided by nature.
It’s the album’s title track that expands on the natural vs. mechanical/analog vs. digital — debate? pairing? you decide. A lush motif of wind or ocean swell evolves into a thrum of rumbling rhythm which leads to a movement that recalls glass shattering over and over in instant replay. Staccato incantation finds a pleasant groove interrupted only by a breathy woman’s voice warming, “I don’t think it’s safe here.”
The track “Hermes Was Right” is intriguing for its name. Assuming Miller is referencing the Greek god rather than the Parisian fashion house, what was Hermes right about? The music, swiftly darting, light and lithe, seems right for the messenger god, also associated with commerce, thieves, travelers, sports and border crossings. Hermes threw his support behind causes of motion, his quick mind drawn to athleticism and trickery regardless of the righteousness of the cause. Similarly, Fantasy seems concerned with the structure and speed of sound, with buoyancy and timbre regardless of the source. Such focus and complete dedication to the journey — without concern for the destination — is what ultimately makes Fantasy such a joyride.