There are very few albums in existence that I feel I can listen to from top to bottom at any time, with anyone, anywhere. It takes a special hybrid of innovative, forward thinking and refined, confident execution for me to want to return more than a few times. What determines an album’s real longevity, however, is the emotional connection I feel to the production and lyrics, and the circumstances surrounding the precise point in my life when I first listened to it.
One such album is Ta-ku’s own Songs To Break Up To, released in 2013 and remaining as the Australian producer’s most celebrated work to date. The 10-track collection traces a winding, fragile descent into loneliness and markers on the timeline, some indicating pain and regret and others showing moments of strength and reflection. The emotive force behind the production eventually swells back upwards towards healing and the piecing together of what was broken, despite never fully cracking the thick barrier of heavy intensity and melancholy. With evolving sonic motifs and consistent atmospheric themes behind the tracks’ main elements, the entire album effectively flows together as one cohesive thought
Because the album has such deeply personal and meaningful weight behind it, it has always been extremely difficult for me to avoid making comparisons to any of Ta-ku’s later work. His long list of singles, follow-up Songs To Make Up To EP and side projects that have emerged since 2013, despite being some of my favorite and most repeatedly listened-to material out there, have always left me searching for a return to the kind of approach taken with Songs To Break Up To.
I’ve found it two times since then, on Ta-ku’s leading single from Songs To Make Up To, “Love Again” featuring JMSN and Sango, and the EP’s “Long Time No See” with Atu. Raw songwriting, repetition without stagnancy, a distinct spotlight on the emotion, minimalism without anything left to be desired. The kind of production in which I believe Ta-ku shines the brightest. But besides these instances, most of his solo work has drifted into fogginess for me. The combination of my own life direction and music preferences and Ta-ku’s evolving style have begun to make me emotionally stray from his main project releases, always wishing for something a little bit different than what he ends up putting out.
This is why my feelings heading into his newest collaborative EP, (m)edian, with fellow Aussie vocalist Wafia were laced with hopeful anticipation. The small and intimate, five-track collection, I knew, would feature substantial creative input from Wafia as well as an emotional anchor held down by both her and Ta-ku’s relationships with their fathers. The concept seemed like the ideal setting for Ta-ku to flex his skills at both crafting the perfect atmospheric backdrop for a specific theme and continuing his impeccable work with dedicated vocalists.
The first song, “Treading Water,” sees the two’s vocals resting gently above a simple but immersive percussion arrangement and heaving, muddy tones. Like in each of the following main tracks, Ta-ku and Wafia trade the spotlight several times, forming a conversational and responsive environment that forces the listener to imagine exactly from where and to whom the lyrics are being directed. With an approachable chorus and undeniably soulful base melody, I felt the song to be a strong and appropriate introduction to the remainder of the EP.
The three main tracks in the EP are broken up by short interludes in between, both of them less than a minute long and without a real name. They serve as simple, wordless palette cleansers between the resounding, back and forth ballads that characterize the bulk of (m)edian. Their inclusion on the EP gives the listener a moment to adjust to the next full song, and realign themselves with the collection’s overall vibe and structure.
“Love Somebody” comes next, used as the most upbeat and optimistic track on the EP, and one most clearly suited for a live performance. Each section is drenched in sing-along material; you can almost visualize the hands of a fashionable Coachella crowd swaying in time with the beat. The distance created between the hip hop/R&B backbone of Ta-ku’s usual work and the folky, indie dance nature of “Love Somebody” is somewhat jarring to me as a longtime listener of his. Elements of his style easily break through the seams and keep the track grounded, but the truth is, if I was played its chorus without knowing it was his, I’d never think of guessing the name Ta-ku.
The second interlude transitions to the EP’s leading single and final track, “Meet In The Middle.” A brooding bass synth and harsh percussion strikes form the defining characteristics of the song, adding a firm layer of conflict and intensity to the two’s trading vocal sections. The track feels to me like a representation of the unresolved and incompatible aspects of their relationships with their fathers, all the way down to the title itself. The far-off echoes and ever-evolving sense of space holds my attention and interest all the way through, making it one of the EP’s best and most true tracks to the kind of Ta-ku I remember.
After many listens, however, I’m still unable to fully collect my thoughts on (m)edian. Comparing it to the entire scope of Ta-ku’s career, I continue to find myself yearning for something closer to Songs To Break Up To. But looking at the EP as a work within itself, I’m extremely satisfied. The production quality is as close to perfect as it can come, and the natural, fluid relationship between the personal stories and physical voices of Ta-ku and Wafia is undeniable. They are what the EP is about at the end of it all, and the reason, I think, for my slight dissatisfaction.
The lyrics and storytelling are what separates the work from the rest of Ta-ku’s catalogue. The actual production and overall sonic atmosphere are present and solid, but nowhere near as close to the focus of the EP as on his previous works. It’s about the words this time.
“I guess it’s a tribute to unconditional love. Whether that be platonic, romantic, or family. It’s about loving someone unrequitedly.” – WAFIA
With so many projects being worked on simultaneously, several of them even outside the realm of music, Ta-ku’s impact on the artistic community is far too broad to be affected by a singular release. Despite the incredible collaboration with Wafia, and an important one in the scope of their personal lives, I’m sure, I plan to politely set (m)edian to the side to revisit Ta-ku’s old EPs and Dilla and Nubajes tributes for a while longer.