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“What might be the sound of an infectious bass groove battling with a broken speaker is a befitting description for what drives the rhythm of this eclectic track. Samples of an old television set and clinking glass bottles help along the way. The emotive beat and gratifying melody pass back and forth, trading friction and harmony, mirroring the fluster and spark of life on earth. At last we take off, traveling light upon an interstellar current and into deep space. The final act washes over us in a gentle wave of white noise, melodic tones scatter and converge as we float on across the outer reach, forever into the infinite.”

In recording their debut album, Secret Listener, Matthew “MP” Shaw and Unlearn (James Key) set out in search of asylum from a pandemic reality in the form of musical escapism. The kaleidoscopic and dreamy sonic realm the San-Francisco-based duo ended up creating, however, turned out just as enigmatic and unpredictable as life outside their doors.

Both formerly hailing from the Seattle music scene, the project took form as the pair once again crossed paths in California. Shaw, multi-instrumentalist previously of electro-pop unit Her Space Holiday and City Light, describes seeking catharsis in the form of music, but ultimately unfolding “a dystopian fantasy within a dystopian reality.” Shaw began providing bass and drum architecture and Key, electronic producer and sound designer, focusing on crafting melodies, soundscapes, and manipulating samples. Increasingly, as they began to trade roles and experiment with more nonmusical elements, the impetus of the project was revealed: “Can we take the dissonance of the world around us and turn it into something beautiful?”

Sounds of ASMR murmured speech, urban noise, static, the hum of studio electrical outlets and tape noise swirl about in transient harmony with soaring synth melodies and reverberating percussion, surrounded by the minimalist pleasures of ambient downtempo arrangements. The result is a cinematic suite of euphoric electronic music interwoven with dark, pulsating analog grooves, compelling instrumental movements that vacillate between comfort and chaos. Tracks like the hazy “Dusting the Astral Plane,” the crystalline “Dream Edit,” and the lush Brian Eno cover “Deep Blue Day” reveal both cautious optimism and unexpected depth—the soundscapes become canvases onto which listeners can project a range of hopes and anxieties, intent for us to tune into the sonic anomalies around us in order to discover what lies within. With an ear to the world around them, Unlearn and MP Shaw give us all the space we need to do just that on Secret Listener.

Unlearn (James Key) He/him
MP Shaw (Matthew Shaw) He/him

For Fans Of: Boards of Canada, Brian Eno, Plaid, Aphex Twin

Unlearn & MP Shaw
Secret Listener
March 24, 2023
Pre-order it here

Track List:

1. Dusting The Astral Plane
2. Love In The Ruins
3. Farallon
4. Dream Edit
5. Deep Blue Day
6. TL4
7. Deleted Scenes
8. Article One
9. Ghost Speak
10. Swim
11. Dancing On The Brink