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Shallowhalo gets kaleidoscopic on new single "Crystal Ball"

Shallowhalo gets kaleidoscopic on new single "Crystal Ball"

photo by Kelli McGuire

MUSIC: Yellow Magic Orchestra covering Archie Bell & The Drells’ “Tighten Up, Pt. 1” on Soul Train in 1980. Ladytron covering Tweet's "Oops Oh My" on their Softcore Jukebox comp in 2004.
 Doris Wishman's Nude on the Moon. Satoshi Kon’s Perfect Blue.
Jaime Sommers' circuit-faced fembot adversaries on The Bionic Woman. Natalie Scatorccio's mullet-shagged emotional armor on Yellowjackets.

If any of the above are on your bingo card for “things that share a spiritual bond with the musical duo known as Shallowhalo according to some random guy who writes for the Deli magazine” then you’re in luck because the sounds and the imagery created by Allyson Camitta and Ezra Tenenbaum working together as Shallowhalo share a certain off-kilter something beautiful but a bit unsettling” quality with the aforementioned off-kilter cover versions, genre films, and misfit fashion plates as seen on TV…

…and if you wanna hear something beautiful but a bit unsettling may we recommend Shallowhalo's latest single “Crystal Ball” (Dinosaur City Records) which opens with a wash of shimmering synth, a machine-tooled Moroder-esque bass line and a pulsating 808 kick drum and already in the intro you've got the makings of a dreamy dark-hued dance-pop gem which "Crystal Ball" definitely is, but Ezra and Allyson mix things up almost immediately with the first verse switching lanes into a slinky, somewhat boppy/synthpoppy groove like something you'd expect to hear in a vintage Euro-pop or J-pop track along the lines of Kraftwerk, Mecano, or YMO...

…but then before long there's a short pre-chorus part that builds the tension up again with Allyson’s airy upper register hovering over a descending melody leading into the first chorus that brings back elements from the intro and introduces the titular hook (make the call / stare into your crystal ball / things you hide / and try to find / which way to go) and by the time it’s all over just over two minutes later you'll likely be fully mesmerized...

..all of which serves to underline the fleeting, elusive quality of “Crystal Ball” whose lyrics concern an irresolute, emotionally unavailable lover who “never know[s] which way to go” to the point of being seemingly “caught in a kaleidoscope,” a fractured perspective that rubs off on the narrator as well it seems with her “head and heart so far apart” the midst of an urban existence made up of “mirrored nights [and] diamond days” all enhanced by Ezra's use of vintage analogue synths which evoke a retro-futuristic sense of otherness in a digital world...

…and here’s where I’m reminded of Perfect Bluethe late-90s cinematic masterwork by Satoshi Kon, an animated film set in Tokyo full of recurring images of mirrors and other reflective surfaces—reflective surfaces gazed into repeatedly by the film’s protagonist, pop-idol-turned-aspiring-actress Mima Kirigoe—imagery clearly meant to mirror the blurring of any clear distinction between illusion and reality for the traumatized Mima as her psyche (and the film) shatters into a kaleidoscopic array of clashing perceptions and memories and dream logic imagery with the viewer left to figure out how the pieces fit together if they even fit at all…

…so when “Crystal Ball” starts off with the lines “paint the walls red / then brush them blue," well, surely it's a coincidence but who says coincidence is always coincidental cuz these two lines and the rest of the song are a perfect fit for a bloody anime about the fracturing of identity, plus the J-pop setting of Perfect Blue is highly apropos for a musical combo who mention the influence of “Yen Records-inspired synth pop” in their bio…

…with Yen Records being the imprint run by Yukihiro Takahashi and Haruomi Hosono, both of Yellow Magic Orchestra, between 1982 to 1985, and with Yukihiro Takahashi having passed away just last week—right around when “Crystal Ball” was released in fact—I’m sure Shallowhalo will be ok with me dedicating part of this piece to the drummer/vocalist/songwriter/producer who had such an outsized influence on electropop/EDM from its very beginnings not to mention other genres like hip hop

…and returning to that list that opened this whole article: no matter how head-scratching YMO’s cover of Archie Bell & The Drells “Tighten Up” may be there’s still something magical and subversive (especially for its time) about a Japanese electropop group (before “electropop” was even a thing) performing a mutated R&B classic to an all-Black audience (except for the Japanese businessman type dancing up a storm while holding a sign that simply says “Wow!”) on one of the most iconic African-American TV shows of all time and all involved having such a great time with it from the dancers to Don Cornelius to YMO themselves...

…and while Shallowhalo may not have invented any new genres (yet!) they do seem to have a knack for taking old sounds and doing something new with them, often distilling them down to a fine minimalist point, kinda like Yellow Magic Orchestra did with "Tighten Up, Pt. 1" on Soul Train back in 1980which isn't to say SH don't have more relatively modern influences too ranging from Ladytron to Justice and Glass Candy to the Dare—plus the various Spanish-language pop Allyson’s Guatemalan mom played for her growing up—so check out Shallowhalo's 2022 LP No Fun if you wanna judge for yourself or just enjoy some off-kilter synthpop songs about haunted porcelain dolls and edible jewelry and Internet celebrities and that's just the first two songs…

..and at last I'd be remiss not to mention the Kelli McGuire-directed video for “Crystal Ball” that's cool ’n’ strange in its own right plus it’s the reason why I cited Doris Wishman and the fembots above given the video's lovingly handmade aesthetic that manages to be woozy and vivid and lurid and suffused with wide-eyed innocence all at the same time (see: Doris Wishman) not to mention the hyper-saturated colors and spritzes of glitter and dry ice and tarot cards and double-vision-to-the-N'th-degree and yes even an actual crystal ball and then lastly (but not leastly!) there's the Madame-Zara-meets-Fifth-Element-meets-electrode-sporting-fembot-on-the-moon fashion sense...

...but enough of my yakkin', it's only right for Allyson Camitta to have the last word with some BTS insights on the "Crystal Ball" music video: "I was introduced to Kelli Mcguire through our mutual musician friend Pynkie and was instantly drawn to her aesthetic. It's bright and lush while also feeling creepy and unsettling. We wanted to work together on a Ghost in the Shell sci-fi meets 80's horror boudoir shoot, which my friend Caroline Mills also helped on prosthetics for. Kelli happened to shoot some BTS footage on her camera and it naturally evolved into a video concept…The video helps to reinforce that kaleidoscopic feeling of being lost in your own head about something, when the answer is right in front of you." (Jason Lee)


Published: January 16, 2023 |

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