Derived from the same world of inspiration that spawned some of history’s most innovative creations, the Los Angeles DJ duo um is a miraculous accident like penicillin, potato chips, and Velcro. The group could just as easily be called “Oops" for their three song EP pay attention released via Study Group embodies the wonky, chemically-imbalanced soul of experimental electronic music. Although um's songs are definitely an offset branch from Trap music—given the hip hop drum patterns, the distinct use of 808 subs, and the lead synth melodies that stretch and pixelate throughout the EP—putting um in the same category as Flosstradamus would be a mistake.
um’s music is pure, unfiltered insanity, and you’ve likely never heard anything like it before. Glitchy, malfunctioning circuit bender music has become more prominent in recent years, foreshadowed by several off-kilter Jack Ü ID’s that induced double-takes during their first trek outside of the studio in 2013. Since then, faulty hardware musicians like Tipper, The Widdler, and Ott have gained traction among the Wooks and the K-Hole spelunkers who crave alien music. Artists like um have crafted a new style of sound that is sure to freak out anyone in the midst of an LSD trip, and their ability to weave chaos into a palatable form is very impressive. The incorporation of grungy bass cuts and low end sweeps is reminiscent of early dubstep and UK’s grime scene from the late 90’s, but there is nothing vintage or old-school about this EP.
Elements of Salvador Dali’s surrealism manifest themselves most notably in um’s title song “pay attention,” a glitch music journey through the deepest elephant trails of the Indian Jungle. Elastic stretched tribal drums set the background for this epic expedition through the wilderness of Sri Lanka, complemented perfectly by the battle cry of the Olifant horn that rings through the second minute of the track. Parts of this song sound similar to “Elephant Ride” by Flying Lotus, the grand-nephew of famous saxophonist John Coltrane. Anyone who has been too amped from a night of raving has likely turned on Adult Swim around 4 am and seen the psychotic mess that is their late night programming. Many of the music bumps between commercial breaks feature music from Flying Lotus, and his irregular landscape of sound is personified in tracks like “Zodiac Shit,” arguably Fly Lo’s most well recognized and popular tracks. um goes even deeper into the crooked and misaligned end of the experimental spectrum, tastefully crafting a new level of what-the-eff for your listening pleasure.
“That’s Horrible,” the second track on the pay attention EP, goes head first into the realm of weird by creating a sonically driven optical illusion, serving as a perfect two-step track for the dread heads who enjoy grooving like gypsies at burns and music festivals. “Birds in Paradise” literally sounds like RL Grime ate a 10 strip and locked himself in the studio. um was able to do what the Death Grips were incapable of doing: creating obscure music that actually sounds good. That is not to say that um can easily be digested by average listeners. Not everybody is going to be able to appreciate the nuances of wonky music like this, but those who can definitely have a taste for mayhem.
Somewhere amidst the complete disorder and pandemonium of um’s EP is an alluring sense of rhythm that can turn a toe tap into a head bob. It takes a visionary to see the motif in the maelstrom and find order in anarchy, yet the pair of producers that created this EP did so with ease.