30 Sep 2023

Epiphytes by Jet Jaguar

From The Sampler, 2:30 pm on 30 September 2023

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Michael Upton AKA Jet Jaguar

Michael Upton AKA Jet Jaguar Photo: Bandcamp

Wellington producer Michael Upton has been releasing music under the name Jet Jaguar since 1996. Since then his beats have gotten less bolshy, and he’s embraced location recording, with stints drifting away from rhythm altogether.

His latest, Epiphytes, marks a return to more electronic sounds, alongside the cityscapes and unidentifiable scrunches. It’s still clearly the work of the same musical mind, using different tools to create similar sound worlds.

The more stuff I listen to, the more I enjoy a good texture, and Upton delivers every time. That swirling, synthesised churn would be enough to keep me interested, let alone the tantalisingly familiar background plinks, but he drops in some bass and phased hi-hat for good measure. It’s music that’s quietly restless; always moving. 

Calling the track ‘Chorus Petals' gives you an idea of Upton’s dry sense of humour, which colours the music too. On ‘Crossing’, he builds a track around the rhythmic beep of a crossing sign, but rather than taking the obvious route, aims for something more syncopated.

‘No Smooth Planes’ begins with a cacophony of found sounds: what sounds like a seatbelt being fastened? Wind and rain outside a window? Something rubbed directly against the mic? Part of the fun is not knowing for sure, and luxuriating in the new spaces they suggest when blended together. 

Around halfway through you realised you’ve tuned into a persistent, slightly acidic bassline, and lovely synth melody.

Upton explains the ‘epiphyte’ concept on his Bandcamp page: thinking about the way the epiphyte plant grows on trees without harming them, he applied the idea to his compositions, explaining that many of these tracks involve different elements fused together. To quote more specifically, the idea is described as “lifting and replanting at least one element from another session, seeing how things can shift and fit together again. The album is all about exploring how different elements can grow and work in unison.”

Wondering what was initially separate engages another level of attentiveness, but while some of the pleasures here do involve active listening and lateral thought, above all it’s simply nice to listen to; full of tones and timbres to soothe one's headspace. 

Jet Jaguar is still heading down his own distinctive path, quietly consistent and compelling.