NEW ARTIST FINDS: SELVA OSCURA
I can only assume Selva Oscura picked his stage name as a nod to the “shadowed forest” referenced in Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy: “When I had journeyed half of our life's way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray.” I’m not sure of his reasons for using this name, but this little Classical Literature BA is mighty impressed, and I think the idea of a shadowed forest works well with the mood our Austin-based downtempo producer is trying to create, so good choice I say.
So we talk a lot about dream pop here at Bitcandy, and I’ve said it’s kind of an electronic extension of stargazer indie rock. I think a lot of music writers would classify Selva Oscura as dream pop, but I put it to you, the discerning Bitcandy reader, that we are actually not dealing with dream pop in the case of Mr. Oscura, Christian name Ray Levinson-Fort, but rather an older more refined form of indie electronica known as downtempo. What’s the difference? Well, allow me to elucidate!
For a proper explanation of downtempo, we must hearken back to electronica days of yore; before dubstep, before trap, before whatever Grimes calls herself, to the land of ambient house and drum & bass, of trip hop, and of chill. Not chillWAVE, mind you, just chill. Duke Mushroom chill, Morcheeba chill, “Inner City Life” by Goldie chill. It was a state of mind, man (State of Mind also being a song from Goldie’s Timeless album), not just a genre. Now how do I put that in musical terms?
Essentially, downtempo in the 90s and early 00s was what it sounds like: a very slowed down and mellowed out version of favorite club genres like house, drum & bass and hip hop. It usually also entailed melodic singing, more spiritual lyrics and some major 5-HTP to take the edge off of whatever you were coming down from. At raves, entire rooms were dedicated to this kind of music indeed for the soul purpose of chilling out so that whatever trip you were on didn’t get too intense. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg story as to which came first, the music or the drug-addled need for the music, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is I haven’t heard the modern equivalent to a downtempo artist for years, until curator chrischanity popped Selva Oscura into my review queue.
Whether he means to or not, Levinson-Fort as Selva Oscura really is able to capture that elusive quality that nearly all the downtempo and ambient artists had back then. Again, it’s different to dream pop in that it doesn’t come from lots of echoey sound effects or call-and-response lyrics, but rather in treating the music very delicately and just lacing lyrics and melodies into a very well-crafted framework only when they are needed.
The first single I picked up from Selva Oscura does very well to illustrate my point. “Lunar Days,” his most recent single is featured on Austin-based music promoter Vagabond Collective’s Summer Nights compilation, presumably because he performed at one of their concerts. “Lunar Days” is definitively a downtempo drum & bass track with nearly no trace of modern genres. It so beautifully captures the downtempo masters of the past that my first thought as a fading D&B head was, “hm, how do I not know this guy from back in the day?” The answer, of course, is that Selva Oscura has only been releasing since 2011, and drum and bass is not his only genre. You can bet your horn-rimmed glasses and curly mustache that it’s my favorite, however. If you promise to listen to the single in the player below and possibly partake of the free download, I promise to soldier on and talk about his other releases. Deal? Deal.
SELVA OSCURA - LUNAR DAYS
On his Soundcloud page, Selva Oscura has a few other tracks listed, but the mother lode is on his Bandcamp page, where he has two full albums of all original songs! Where did this guy come from? In 2011 he released what he calls an EP but I say at 7 tracks that’s a full album, called As/Is/Was, and in 2012 he released a massive 12-track full-length called Refractides. With both of these records I am again immediately prone to classify them as downtempo, with tracks like “Mid Spring” off As/Is/Was taking a chill yet dancy, sort of Hudson Mohawke vibe.
SELVA OSCURA - AS/IS/WAS
Now don’t get me wrong: over his body of work Selva Oscura explores not only drum & bass and breaks, but progressive house, trip hop, even dubstep and trap. Ambient and downtempo are really production methods which can travel across many genres and subgenres. Whether he means to or not, Selva Oscura has brought these techniques back and mixed them with new genres, techniques and softwares to create his own sound. I think takes the best bits from all genres, sub-genres, techniques and production styles and takes them all to a new level. When you think about it, that’s true artistry.
Selva Oscura has another project called exca which it looks like he hasn’t been working on as much – just a few remixes and one original track but they are all expertly done and we have another great drum & bass track. Hooray! Check out exca’s Soundcloud if, like me, you’re hooked on Ray Levinson-Fort and his masterful blending of genres, techniques and vibes, man.
About Layla Marino
Layla Marino is a music and street art blogger with 17 years in the industry. She focuses exclusively on underground music, art, and culture, and loves working with BitCandy to find and bring new artists to a wider audience.