A significant amount of my free time is spent perusing the deepest, darkest, strangest catacombs of Bandcamp, and in my expeditions, I have unearthed some projects that should probably have remained earthen. However, this practice also results in the discovery of certain gems that have a tendency to haunt my nightmares. A project that just exudes creativity and bedroom-derived distinctiveness is one of those gems entitled A Million Billion. If there has ever been a project that identifies as indie-lo-fi-acoustic-electronica-classical, it is A Million Billion.
To be completely truthful, the amount of solid material regarding A Million Billion’s story on the Internet is not plentiful, but the music that composes the project’s Bandcamp page is more than enough to go off of. While the page contains eight releases, most of them EPs, I will primarily focus on what seems to be the Mona Lisa of them all: the 19 track-long odyssey released in 2009 called Appelline ([In]finite LP).
Appelline ([In]finite LP) is, in very broad terms, an ambient album. It’s tough to label it as any kind of genre because there is such a wide flux of influence. There are tracks like the kicker “Upgrade to Plus!!!” that provides a cohesive first impression of the instrumentalism that promises to ensue, brilliantly upbeat and strong. This is only to be juxtaposed by the following two tracks “dbeast [inb skit]” and “ubeast,” the former providing a terrifyingly beautiful string ensemble sound. The latter is purely noise, twitching and squirming inside of your eardrums. It’s like an evil twin of ASMR. This first set of songs in the album is illustrative of combination of unpredictable elements that make up Appelline ([In]finite LP). There’s a Yin and Yang aspect of this balance between organization and chaos. The mellow selections, such as the haunting “Waltz 1007r” are like the eye of this hurricane of an LP.
One could go as far as to say this is a concept album. There are recurring themes that travel throughout the entire mix, such as the chronicle of “dbeast.” There are three “dbeast” selections, all of which satisfy whatever noise/electronica requirement this project is aiming to fill. Also, there are two piano waltzes, satisfying the Chopin-like classical styling that one would never guess comes from the same album as the “dbeasts.”
Sensing some apparent influences is tricky for this artist, but I’m imagining that Sufjan Stevens and Pink Floyd are both there. The way classical violins weave in and out of nowhere, the evocative piano-oriented tracks, and the emotion inside of Appelline ([In]finite LP) all remind me of Illinois. The conceptual and highly trippy nightmare-inducers are reminiscent of The Wall.
Experiencing this album is climbing a mountain. When you first view the track list, you wonder how on Earth you’ll ascend all of it. Although there are some parts of the mount that are tough to hike (like “Balloon Strategies”), you eventually come to relieving tracks, like “The Fish is Dead” that provide you with an astonishing view down, which makes the climb worth sticking out. When you’re tired, and wondering if you should even try for the summit, a track like “Zenith 88” administers you with a burst of poppy and feel-good energy… like an energy bar that you’d grab from your Xenith 88 hiking pack. Bam. Metaphors.
Let’s get in bed with A Million Billion:
In 2005, this electronica project kicked itself off when Ryan Smith released his Filthy Schoolgirls EP. Smith is a Brooklyn-based indie producer whose resume includes collaborations with Public Enemy and Bloc Party, as well as his role as keyboardist in The Silent League. Most everything about Smith’s project is under whatever radar would be detecting this style of creation. The latest release came in 2011 called Some Covers, and is an EP of two cover songs by Smith. There is barely any resemblance to Appelline ([In]finite LP), but it reflects what I can respect about A Million Billion. The project is not tied to any sort of genre or style of music. It’s really just whatever Ryan Smith feels like recording.
The form of creation presented to us by A Million Billion is unique and complicated. Ryan Smith utilizes everything he enjoys about music in his conglomeration of tracks. The era of music production we are in allows him to manifest his creativity and generate something truly strange.
JASON McCUE | Jeffy Thunderbolt | KXSU Reporter