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Page McConnell, keyboardist and vocalist committee constituent of the jam band Phish, hit us with his first solo album this year, Maybe We’re the Visitors. Now, up until this point, I’d associated McConnell with light-hearted, jazzy rock excursions like “Cars Trucks Buses,” a keyboard-jolted jam of which he’s listed as the primary songwriter. Even under this guise, anyway, my interest was gathered for this new project.
Much was it to my surprise then to find out it’s pretty much an ambient electro record, one generally devoid of traditional “grooves” like you find on not only Phish records but other members’ solo projects. What’s more, and which was just further disorienting and ultimately interesting, this LP has the decidedly ominous theme of the “Maybe We’re the Visitors” album title and the cover art portrait of earth as barren and strange. According to phish.com, McConnell recorded part of the album in Iceland, “in response to the epic landscapes, dramatic weather and geologic fury” taking place there. The bulk of this work was done right before the 2020 shutdown, according to the website, which of course would make McConnell’s dark inquiries and fixation on tumult and uncertainty not only more enticing but also more applicable and vital.
I’ve got somewhat of a history of championing drone ambient as a style on this website, from Oneohtrix Point Never to Emeralds to Yellow Swans and wherever, and had fully planned on following suit in the case of McConnell’s still but brilliant masterpiece of this year. The music gods, however, had other plans, as at this point I’ve legitimately heard 70 records that I like even better from this year (I typically list a top 50 and then include 20 members in the “Honorable Mention” section). Short of actually pointing out, or attempting to point out, any shortcomings this LP has, anyway, I’ll just reinstate that it’s a very barren, desolate album, if not to necessarily say “somber” — it sounds like a record that was made in rural Iceland, as it were. One thing special to me about it, anyway, is that it really doesn’t smack of yesteryear’s Page in any way — it sounds more like a young, stoned and hungry IDM artist who grew up on John Wiese and Four Tet, wanting nothing more than to weird out listeners and stake his own claim to blogospheric electro nerddom. If you ask me, Maybe We’re the Visitors deserves a lot of credit just for that sense of originality, for the complete lack of ambition to make a Phish record or to fit any sort of preconceived mold. According to Seven Days, a Vermont-based online periodical, Maybe We’re the Visitors was performed “completely with synthesizer,” including the hypnotic, tribal beat that runs through the veins of album centerpiece “Terra Incognita.”