Between producing and touring with big name pop artists, it's a wonder Japanese Wallpaper has any time to release the monumental full length album that is Glow. Out this Friday, the debut full length production introduces the world to what a solo project with the Australian producer sounds like; bubbling with twisting synth loops and darker dramatic beats. There is also a healthy mix of softer and brighter, dare I say glowing, tracks about navigating adulthood.
After listening to the album all week, I speak with the producer over email about the creation of Glow. Namely, the growth between his collaborative 2016 self-titled EP and now and why he is flying solo this time around. His humble beginnings writing songs in his bedroom at 15 bloomed into a flourishing producing career; not to mention touring with names such as M83 and Lily Allen. However, I'm eager to know how it all led to the colourful and honest collection of tracks that is Glow. "The ways that we document our lives in 2019 is becoming increasingly transient," Gab Strum, the name behind the name, writes me. "From the outset I'd hoped that creating a larger project like an album could also act as a kind of time capsule, something to look back on in the future that captured my headspace in such a transformative time."
From start to finish, Glow does capture a certain feeling; it's mesmerizing alt-pop that incorporates slower, heavier rhythms alongside faster, catchy beats. I think that feeling is a simultaneous mixture of vulnerability and confidence shown through relatable lyrics and exploding, dance-worthy choruses. "The initial spark of most Japanese Wallpaper songs is usually a production idea or experiment, that becomes a fleshed out instrumental track before any vocal parts are added," Strum writes. "Being able to tour and observe people connecting to the songs has definitely imbued me with a sense of ambition and scale that I never really felt was possible before."
What is particularly striking about Glow is Strum's unique use of unusual sounds. Notably the trickling harp strings in track "Float" and distant background wind chimes in "Tongue Tied". Each song seems to bring together the most satisfying and intriguing features; from moments bursting with electronic bass to the subtle, recurring lyrical theme of the colour blue. The knack for amalgamating electronic sounds with indie styles is perhaps why Japanese Wallpaper is in demand as a collaborator. His descriptions of being in the producer's chair points to why Strum has had success in featured releases:
"I think that the most important thing a producer can bring to a project is a fresh set of ears and ideas. A song can exist for years and through hundreds of different iterations before it might be ready to be 'produced' - and it's important to be able to visualize a record as a whole, rather than the sum of all its nuances and subtleties."
This is why Strum feels producing for himself is a completely different pursuit. While his 2016 debut featured multiple artists, Glow shines a light on Japanese Wallpaper as a singular name. "The solo focus on this album was less of a 'decision' and more just the way it came to be," Strum recalls. "As I spent more time refining and listening back to the demos I became more and more comfortable with the idea of having my voice at the centre." I agree that Strum's voice stands alone, but not just audibly. This album feels incredibly personal in its lyrical perspective. Specifically, the stories of crossing the sometimes difficult threshold of adulthood. Songs like single "Imaginary Friends" and "Wearing You Out" are just two examples of where these ideas appear. In the "Imaginary Friends" music video, we see various young adults using Game Boys from the 90's juxtapositioned with IPhones - portraying a relatable world of the millennial caught in between.
In the years since his debut, Strum has produced multiple remixes and projects. Glow is the first page of a new creative chapter for Japanese Wallpaper. In its synth-packed, vibrant tracks, we hear the perspectives and compositions of a young artist; one who has only just begun contributing to his genre. He mentions in his email that he feels Glow is reaching for something his past album wasn't yet capable of reaching for. Whatever creative, mysterious thing that is, I believe he has found it.