What does Mikel sound like?
If Studio Ghibli made lo-fi hip-hop beats.
The review of Mikel – Floating
Inspired by spending a year travelling across South East Asia, Japan and South Korea, Mikel turned to chill lo-fi beats for his latest album. Calling out his travels as inspiration, he wanted to infuse them with the whimsical and magical qualities of Zelda and Ghibli soundtracks. ‘Floating’ is an album that absolutely succeeds in that goal and does a whole lot more too.
Opening with ‘Departure’, a vinyl hiss gently kicks in over classical piano motifs, elegant string arrangements and a twee slice of life sensibilities seep into the song. This is then offset by Asian instrumentation such as the little bells that jangle about, or the Japanese way of recording their strings in a very taut fashion. Soon the thick synth bass and beats kick in and whilst the beats aren’t soft, it is like everything around the hip-hop beat is a lo-fi album. After the playful piano, ‘Passage’ dives into the interplay of a jaunty journey theme. The interplay of strings and piano is Joe Hisashi-esque in the best way.
The playful and innocent nature of the melodies really shines through in ‘Into the Unknown’. The secondary percussion and cracking and popping noises remind me of a child’s playground. Still, underneath the bird song and slowed-down cymbal percussion, the actual chord progression is more sinister-clumsy. Think circus act that’s tired and has a curious trick up its sleeve and you’ll be in the right ballpark. That makes the more mysterious underplayed shuffle of ‘The Other Side’ sound elegantly lethargic.
Mikel plays with rhythmic four-chord patterns throughout the album. It reminds me of a merry-go-round or a music box at times and ‘Sanctuary’ is a great example of this. The fast waltzing piano spins around at speed before the slower string and synths glide over the top. It’s mystical but mischievous and that tone carries across the whole album. The sole exception to that mischief is the sentimental brilliance of ‘Memories’. The mostly drum, bass and piano piece just allows the piano to effortlessly glide its melancholy rolling notes into your ears. Mikel’s piano chops are on display across the album but it is here where it breathes the most openly.
Moving into the final third of the album, the piano tries out a few different moves. On ‘Moving On’ the piano is put through a vintage in-room reverb effect that makes it sound extra delicate. Mikel often uses dual octaves to repeat motifs bigger and bolder for extra effect and that works a treat here. ‘Reunion’ swaps in a toy piano for extra cuteness between some more broody string arrangements. The album never leaves its dreamlike quality but this is as close to drama as the album gets with its low swung strings. The toy piano and acoustic guitar balance that out though. That leaves the sorrowful ballad of ‘Until Next Time’ to wave us off into the ethereal clouds. The light hum vocal sample is both reassuring and a little ghostly as the South Asian infused string section lilt into their beautiful melody. The understated delivery from everything except the beat adds extra emotion into the mix too and signs off the album beautifully.
Any lo-fi beats, Zelda or Ghibli fans – this album is for you. It is both magical and relaxing. It has groove and a bittersweet epicness to it, whilst often being quite understated. The whole album sounds like a rhythmic journey. I feel like I’ve walked through Mikel’s magical world of wonder and enjoyed every sight that the sounds have conjured in my mind. A masterful display of a musical travelogue in the mind.
Recommended track: Passage
Support Higher Plain Music
Higher Plain Music is part of the Higher Plain Network – a one-man indie media project. If you like what I do, please consider supporting me via Patreon for as little as $1/£1 a month. In return, you’ll receive additional perks for supporting me, such as behind-the-scenes content and free downloads. You can also donate using PayPal. Sharing the website helps too or using the affiliate buy now links on reviews. I receive a few pence per Amazon sale. All your support will enable me to produce better content, more often. I’d love to make this a full-time media network and your support can make that happen. Thank you.