A stuttering, shimmering synthesizer lets a melody unfurl, suggesting hectic motion. Another melody floats in, moving at a quarter the speed, followed by a beat that feels like it’s in slow motion. But then that beat divides into something four times as fast. All that motion and countermotion is enough to fuel “She Goes to the Moon,” one of the tracks on the New Haven-based Owlo’s The Spectrum of Love — an album of wistful, hopeful electronica that was released on March 8 and seems almost tailor-made for snowbound days, with spring just around the corner.
To navigate the world of electronic music is to negotiate the names of proliferating microgenres that breed and die out, begetting new generations of microgenres. Owlo, a.k.a. Lorna Stamat, follows in this tradition, labeling her music “chillwave,” “vaporwave,” and “trip hop” — all genres that are either alive and well and going strong, or that have been in the rear view mirror for anywhere from five to 20 years, depending on who you ask. On another level, however, it doesn’t matter that much. What the multiple labels Owlo uses for her music do get at is that she has a restless mind and ear, making each song quite different from one another and The Spectrum of Love pretty much exactly what the album suggests — a ranging ride from one end to the other of what the musician is up to.
So “Supremacy,” which starts off the album, is sample-driven, with multiple voices moving in harmony while a man’s voice intones, now and again, “I can’t imagine anybody’s stupid to believe that this isn’t a racist society.” “They Use,” meanwhile, is all synthesizers, cool and buzzing over a churning electronic beat that drops away now and again to let the synthesizers float on, the soundtrack teenaged robots might slow-dance at their AI high-school prom. But then the next song, “Internet Kidz,” returns us to samples. “Now that I’ve gotten on the internet,” an excited voice says, “I’d rather be on my computer than doing just about anything!” This time the glitchy beat seems to be mocking that kid’s excitement. The internet ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. “Off Kilter” puts us into staticky, wobbly orbit, while “Reality Hurts Sometimes” feels like it was born on the street.
The Spectrum of Love showcases what’s so fun about synthesizers: the astonishing sonic range they’re capable of, and the way those sounds, now so thoroughly explored over the decades since their introduction into music popular and experimental, can be so instantly evocative. A lot of them sound like the 80s, or the 90s. But of all the labels that Owlo applies to her music, the most informative one in the end is “ambient electronic,” which has its origins in the 1960s and 1970s, if not earlier. The idea, as the name implies, isn’t so much to sweep listeners up and transfix them as it is to create an atmosphere, something that isn’t necessarily meant to be listened to actively so much as felt, as a mood, a texture, an air quality.
Which brings us back to the weather we’re having right now, and the good timing of The Spectrum of Love’s release. The brittle sounds on “Crystal Heart” sound for all the world like the music to accompany ice crystals spreading across glass — something to occupy us just enough as our lives are disrupted by icy roads and cancellations and we wait, knowing that warmer weather is sure to come.