UF-based electronic duo Bells and Robes wrote its first EP with an extraterrestrial odyssey in mind.
“Every song we tried to create a world,” the pair’s melody producer, Luke Sipka, said Sunday, drumming his hands across a keyboard in his apartment behind Midtown. “If you really listen, there’s a lot of ambience in the background. We’ve had a lot of people tell us it’s head music.”
The apartment — filled with synth pads, speakers and boxes of the friends’ shared 500 vinyl-record collection — is where Sipka, a 22-year-old UF telecommunication senior, and percussionist Dean Spaniol, a 21-year-old UF sports management junior, spent the last six months producing “Failing and Dreaming,” a 20-minute sonic expedition into psychedelic electronic music, which releases on SoundCloud Friday.
The UF fraternity-brothers-turned-experimental-electronic-duo agreed to produce the EP June 20, the first day of the 2012 summer solstice.
But by Dec. 21, the start of winter solstice, Sipka and Spaniol abandoned the first two tracks.
“Failing was a big part of our concept,” Spaniol admitted. “We had trouble finishing songs.”
At first the two aimed to emulate popular electronic music, he said. Replicating poppy but simple beats seemed like a reasonable task.
Spaniol was involved in percussion for almost 10 years. Sipka trained in jazz piano for 10 years. In high school, he worked for a year as a pianist at Santioni’s Cucina Italiana restaurant on Fleming Island.
But the two got stuck trying to perfect sections of tracks for weeks at a time, Spaniol said, only to lose sight of their original idea.
“It was very disjointed,” Sipka said. “But it did have this vibe about it that you were in space floating.”
Tired of scrutinizing their songs into oblivion and with the midday sun sinking lower on the horizon every day, the duo started laying down tracks for “Failing and Dreaming” with one principle: “first instinct, best instinct.”
“It’s getting into that state of flow,” Sipka said. “You’re on the edge of not knowing whether it’s good or bad, but it’s just there.”
Writing in the morning and searching for samples online at night, Sipka and Spaniol sometimes mixed for 15 hours a week.
“We just didn’t want to hesitate,” Sipka said. “We just wanted to get our ideas out there”
In addition to releasing its EP this winter, he said, Bells and Robes teamed up with Tokyami Fish&Kicks clothing brand. Sipka and Spaniol produce the company website’s music and will star in a music video for the brand that will be released this year.
With “Failing and Dreaming” behind them, the duo decided January is “Hip-Hop month.” Bells and Robes has four tracks of old school beats, Sipka said. He’s not worried that the new sound is a far cry from the psychedelic roots of their last project.
“This was the kind of stuff we were inspired by as we were making it,” he explained. “I guarantee the next EP we put out won’t sound like this EP.”
“Failing and Dreaming” is an eclectic collection of rumbling bass lines and upbeat synth paired with warm acoustic elements. Robust melodies of horns, violins and reggae-style organs — dubbed “the world’s sounds” by Bells and Robes — give the 20-minute set a playful side that contrasts with the dark electric attitude of its lower-pitched tones.
The vibe of the five-track concept EP is unpredictable and, at times, downright bizarre, but in all the right ways. Full of ambient vinyl-record samples, echoing percussion and changing time-signatures, “Failing and Dreaming” shows influence from L.A. beat scene bands like Flying Lotus and Beats Antique, but hints of inspiration from bands like Gorillaz and Radiohead are also apparent.
The friends’ producing talent is obvious from the moment listeners press play, but Spaniol really shines in the percussion powerhouse track “Astral Rain,” a number that sports a complex dancefloor rhythm under a lofty synth line.
Fans of pop-electronic music will find more comfort in “They Call Him Lixian.” Sipka produced the track using a lost music scale he found in an ‘80s composition book, but the track sounds like it could be the newest Bassnectar release.
Those seeking a few mechanical tracks of four-to-the-floor beats and brutal dubstep drops favored by artists like Knife Party or Excision won’t find what they’re looking for in this release. But if you’re in the market for a thought-provoking journey in electronic music, “Failing and Dreaming” is a 20-minute trip into the proverbial rabbit hole worth taking.
Luke Sipka, a 22-year-old UF telecommunication senior, and Dean Spaniol, a 21-year-old UF sports management junior, make up the electronic music duo Bells and Robes.
The album art for Bells and Robes EP "Failing and Dreaming"