It’s been two years since I released my first/only full length album, Ourofluoros, on September 6th, 2019. I’ve always wanted to do a deep dive on how it all came together, and I guess because of its anniversary I’ve been reflecting on it lately.
Ourofluoros is… rough. It’s a first album, and it’s a collection of first songs by someone learning how to produce music. Parts of it are pretty amateurish, and the production quality on the whole is definitely less than polished. But! I, along with two to three other people worldwide, still listen to it, and I think that’s because it has something to it. It has character. It’s in-the-red loud and driving, and it’s quiet and introspective, and overall it is cinematic; it tells a story, I think, and that was the whole point of it.
You can listen to the album here while reading if you like:
Ourofluoros began life around 2012, when I drew a picture for my wife for her birthday. It depicted a girl in a yellow raincoat, standing in the rain at a bus stop. A banner at the top said, sadly but humorously, “Happy Birthday.” It wasn’t an especially great drawing, but, like what it eventually mutated into, it had a lot of character.
The character in the birthday illustration stuck in my mind, and I drew her many times. Sometimes she had a brother, a little boy wearing a knight’s helmet and wielding a stick; sometimes she was by herself; and sometimes she was followed by an adult female ghost, who floated behind her. There was some exploration around the child(ren) discovering floating islands built on the backs of monsters, and venturing deep underground through entrances in sewers, home basements, and the corridors beneath offices and old schools. It got spooky.
For a while in its development, Ourofluoros was a children’s book set to the lyrics of the song “Parade” by The Knife. Then, it was a children’s book with its own moral in which the little girl got sucked down the toilet and ended up in the Kingdom of Waste. ¯_(ツ)_/¯ There, she had to face the Universal Rondo (a giant mustachioed slime) and his two guardians, Royal and Regal Sloan (these characters’ names are adapted from the names of toilet manufacturers – again, shrug). The guardian sisters were twin versions of the floating ghost woman I had conceived of earlier. At this point, the little girl was named Vera. The book was set to open with the line, “It rained on Vera’s birthday.”
I canned the book ideas and decided to begin working on key scenes from the story as a series of illustrations. I only finished two of them, but their creation occurred while I was teaching myself how to write and produce music. The coincidence of these activities led me to begin writing songs referencing the same universe and narrative I was working on in the illustrations and, as my interest in making music eclipsed my drive to complete the illustrations, Ourofluoros began to take its final form as a record.
So the album came out of some concepts that had been rattling around in my head for the better part of a decade, concepts which were themselves, I’ve since realized, derived in an attempt to exorcize some subconscious nightmare baggage I had been carrying around with me.
For nearly ten years, I had frequently recurring dreams in which I would be in a familiar social setting, always inside a building of some sort. Everything would seem normal, but then I would walk away and turn a corner, or go down a flight of stairs, or leave a room, and everyone would be gone, leaving the space dark, empty, and unfamiliar. Then things would get pretty surreal and, frankly, pretty fucking scary. I ended up thinking of this space as The Dark Place.
Sometime during the time period in which I was working on art for the Vera story and experimenting with finishing songs, I realized that my creative output was drawing almost entirely from the themes in these dreams, so I decided to focus on them as much as possible. However, I wanted the overall theme to be redemption: I wanted the story to guide the protagonist back out of the darkness, and I wanted them to win, something that didn’t happen in my dreams.
I found that this established a sort of readymade narrative structure. There’s the setup, introduction of the conflict, development of tension, end-of-second-act defeat, and eventual celebration. At this stage, I had a few songs that could fit into this format, and I planned the remaining ones around what I needed to round out the story.
With that said, I want to take a look at each of Ourofluoros’s ten tracks and provide some notes within the context of what I’ve put down above, starting with…
The album opens with the protagonist’s theme. It begins with the melancholy sound of a rainy day, before kicking off with a drum roll to brighten slightly into a sense of playful adventure. The detuned notes and low-passed arpeggios keep it a bit uneasy and sad as it progresses. Multiple people have told me this song has something like Goonies vibes, which I take to mean a sense of cinematic mystery and the potential for an epic quest to unfold. Also the instruments used sound like they’re of that time period.
This track takes its title from William Hughes Mearns’ unsettling poem “Antigonish”, which describes a supernatural entity on a staircase. The song’s echoing minor vibrato chords and rhythmic breath sounds, combined with a descending Shepard tone, are meant to evoke the feeling of venturing downward into the realm of nightmares.
I was especially proud of having made and implemented a Shepard tone for this song, and I think the atmosphere overall is very effective. The synthwave-y stabs at the end describe arriving at the entrance to the dark place, and are meant as an homage to John Carpenter’s music.
A Dark Place
In a reversal, this song is adventurous and driving, a rise to the challenge of arriving in this nightmarish environment. It’s also a reflection on the influence of dreams on creative growth, as the generated speech in the bridge sings: There’s a structure in my mind, and it’s growing every night / A tower forming in my dreams, colossus rising from the sea.
This bridge is a sort of aside to what’s happening in the narrative, and in what I think is one of the album’s more clever moments of production, the melody gets filtered to make space for the vocals and the sampled sounds of a busy social gathering, then builds itself back into the next verse. This was inspired by a similar technique in Bjork’s song “Headphones.”
The last track written for the album, and one of its roughest in terms of production quality and instrumental performance, “Sloan” is the anthem for Vera’s companion, the floating ghost woman. Narratively, this song is supposed to convey an exciting scene, like an escape or a battle, in which Sloan protects Vera from the forces working against her.
My goals with this track were to write parts for guitar and drums, as I hadn’t written anything else in a rock style. I think where it falls down a bit is in its attempt to balance a bunch of different heavily distorted voices. It just gets a bit fuzzed out. That said, I still really dig the way the arpeggio in the bridge comes in and switches up the guitar at the end.
Witches (Don’t) Float
This track communicates a further descent into the unknown, but one bolstered by the confidence of the previous song. The title is a reference to the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t accusations laid against women as a justification for persecution.
The song builds into greater tension before fading off after the last chorus into a quiet moment of anticipation. The build-up comes mainly from the growing prominence of the horns. I’m still pretty proud of my use of sampling in this track, and I find it to be convincing. It was one of my first attempts at using a soundfont with real instrument samples.
Multiple people have asked me what the hell I’m listening to when I’ve had this playing through headphones. I think the treble might be a little overbearing in the mix.
That said, holy cow, I still appreciate what I was attempting to do here. The moment of quiet at the end of “Witches” transforms into a sparkling reflection on a ruined landscape before the battle starts up again with a bass-driven marching beat, something like a synth tin whistle, and then, explosively, what I like to think of as the dual-bagpipe-guitar, that screeching synth voice that’s also used on “Sloan” and “Sylph”, and that I seem to enjoy more than most other people do.
This track was one that I was determined to leave as warts-and-all as acceptably possible (meaning I tried to do less MIDI note tweaking), as I think the quiet melody in the first movement has a lovely drifting quality; and the soloing in the third movement is actually pretty rockin’. I think this is one of the better examples of my performing capability, and one where I leveled up in playing the keyboard.
It culminates in a reversed sample I took of an actual pipe band, which some people also probably find off-putting. Me? I’m a bagpipes guy.
Following the battle in “Chimeric Noise”, Sloan is captured. This was a story beat that I was sure I wanted to include. With the vocal samples in this track, I was trying to express the memory of someone far away – they break up and drift apart and disintegrate.
Still, the song has the feeling of pursuit, trying to fight to get something back. I guess the idea is that Vera’s chasing after Sloan’s memory, or trying to rescue her. Like I said, the narrative specifics here are pretty vague.
I wanted to write a song that was a sort of love letter to ’80s new wave music, and this was what I created. The locomotive disco beat and octave-jumping bass, and the big, shimmering, echoing synths communicate this, I think.
“The Sleeper” is a reference to the devil, used here as a metaphor for whatever nefarious force has harmed Sloan.
Vera’s tentative last name was Caroma, adapted to caromer for the title of this track as a reference to its bouncing, left-right panning heartbeat sound. This song is a counterpoint to “The Sleeper”, describing Vera’s feelings of failure and loss.
Technically, I wanted to build a song around the steady, unchanging three note piano phrase. The rest of the song shifts around it, but it doesn’t change. To me, the piano and the bass beat depict quiet anxiety.
I think the bridge’s build and release in this track nails the emotion I was aiming for.
Turning of the Modern World Worm
So Ourofluoros is a nod to Ouroboros, in that it’s a mythology that is itself self-referential and the output of a seemingly endless cycle (in this case, the recurring dream); but modern, hence, “fluoro.” (The album cover depicts the world worm as a loading spinner.) One of my best friends also suggested to me that the Fluoros part might relate to the video game franchise Silent Hill, and there’s some truth to that. She also suggested that this song conveys “save room” tension, which I think is a wonderful sum-up.
Narratively, “Turning” is the part of the story in which the hero wanders, looking for answers, and finds them, in turn inspiring them to rush off and make things right. From a technical standpoint, I think it’s some of the better ambient music I’ve made. The fireworks samples at the end give me the feels.
This is it! The payoff! Vera finds Sloan in a forest clearing, floating in stasis in a kind of paranormal jail. (There was some concept art for this.) She sets to work, focusing her energy on freeing her friend and guardian, and eventually succeeds, at which point the two fly, spinning, into the sky, hand in hand.
I think the song structure conveys this well. It is one of the more well defined narrative moments in the story. It’s also pretty rockin’. The opening takes its inspiration from the Chrono Trigger soundtrack by Yasunori Mitsuda and the music of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel.
And that’s it. The day is saved. And it actually worked! Hopefully it doesn’t sound overly cheeseball, but writing this album really helped me work a lot of things out. It likely means way more to me than it ever will to anyone else, and that’s fine! Since writing Ourofluoros, I have slept more easily.
Thanks for taking the time to read this! I haven’t written a lot of self-critique, so if you have any comments, feel free to hit me up on social media, email, etc. (links in footer). 💚