Liquid Colours is a record meant to make us consider how profoundly music informs our relationship to memory and physical space.
Whenever I turn on Liquid Colours and settle into the soothing, synthetic dreamspace Michael Silver — working under his CFCF moniker — has created, my mind always drifts to mallwave. For those who care, mallwave is a lo-fi, strangely nostalgic subgenre of electronic music that conjures images of the idealized Shopping Mall as it existed in the 1980s: pastels, soft neon lettering, hanging flora, arched glass, hazy echoes of smooth jazz, funk, pop, and ambient human noise all trapped inside a cathedral of modern capitalism. But rather than sounding glitzy and optimistic, mallwave is inherently sad. It sounds ghostly and haunted, like the interred ambience of a once-bustling mall or department store languidly playing out in a now abandoned relic. At a time when we consume products and curate personas online, the old signifiers of consumerism are decaying into background noise.
Now, it’s not like I’m a mall enthusiast or anything — and there are things worth lamenting more than the gradual shift between physical and digital marketplaces — but mallwave’s broader artistic conceits ring true: a nostalgia for “simpler times” and lost futures, the anxiety of change, the atemporal smearing of modern art, and how music can become so synonymous with certain spaces.
With Liquid Colours, Silver has created an album that explores similar ideas, albeit in a much different style. Whereas the haunting ambience of a mallwave mix feels like an attempt to connect with a nostalgic, idealized version of the past, CFCF’s latest is a hyper-refined, energetic vision of a consumerist future that hasn’t quite transpired. It’s the music you’d hear in a sleek promo for luxury cryogenic space travel to distant worlds, esoteric designer boutiques, or, as CFCF’s Bandcamp page aptly suggests, oxygen lounges, chillout rooms, and luminescent spas. In other words, Liquid Colours is the sound of a lavish version of the future as envisioned from a bygone past; there is a constant sense of movement, progress, and an almost naive optimism. Knowing what we know now about how the future actually panned out, both mallwave and Liquid Colours end up sounding like ruminations of places that only exist in the mind. They sound kitschy, alien, out of step with reality. That said, this is precisely what makes them so compelling; it’s so easy to get lost in these aural fantasies and drift off into their constructed worlds.
Similar to his 2012 effort The Colours of Life, Silver structures Liquid Colours to be a non-stop suite of music that continuously develops within the context of one style. But where The Colours of Life employs Balearic and tropical house rhythms, saxes, pan flutes, and other organic textures, Liquid Colours is largely characterized by smooth breakbeats, atmospheric synths, and synthetic futurism. From the sounds of the soothing, yet somewhat agitated vibraphone melody on the opener “Re-Utopia”, to the closer “Re-Identity”’s final repetition of this motif, Silver beautifully develops a fully-realized narrative that builds with purpose, gracefully breaks apart, and re-orients itself before fading out the same as fades in.
Liquid Colours is, at its core, background music. It is designed to both blend into and augment the listener’s surroundings to provide a sort of synesthetic colour and texture. More than that, though, it’s a record that conjures surroundings both vague, yet oddly specific. If mallwave sounds like the ghostly hallways of an empty shopping mall, then the compositions on Liquid Colours sound like the warm, yet superficial glow of a bustling consumerist hub or a utopian cityscape full of sensory shimmer and exquisite curation: places every bit as beautiful as they are designed to cater to our suffocating materialism. This ability to evoke such vivid perceptions of physical spaces, whether real or imagined, is a consistent feature of Silver’s remarkably varied discography.
While CFCF’s Bandcamp page is rather clear that there is a tongue-and-cheek element here (clearly heard on a track like “Oxygen Lounge”), Liquid Colours feels like a work of intense study and perception. By Silver’s own admission, the project is a somewhat ironic homage to a time when musical genres as abrasive as jungle, electronica, and drum and bass were “the sound(s) of capitalism”. In a bizarre shift, these intense, club-oriented styles became softened and commercialized for use in ads, designer shopping soundtracks, lobby muzak playlists, etc. He refers to this appropriation as “corporatized pop jungle”. In this sense, the whole record ends up feeling like a comment on capitalism’s adaptive qualities: consumer-driven environments will do whatever they can to cultivate feelings of pleasure, escape, and unfounded optimism. For what it’s worth, mallwave also plays with these feelings as well, but does so in a way that’s more nihilistic, as if the sentiments are now interred in the empty spaces that engendered them.
Underneath Silver’s pointed dissection of his own work, you truly do just get the sense that he loves this music on his latest record and the images it conjures up. He enjoys creating it as much as he enjoys immersing himself in the gratuitous pleasure of it all. That feeling is infectious and it results in Liquid Colours — with its interplay of detached irony and disarming sense of yearning — being an overwhelming success. It’s a bewildering swirl of emotions meant to make us consider how profoundly music informs our relationship to memory and physical space.