This article is part of my Tervigersate column on my blog, where I review albums by musicians spanning multiple genres. Articles introduce an album and give my interpretation of their meaning.
The next album to spotlight in Tergiversate is Abysma by Los Angeles-based Geotic, a.k.a. Will Wiesenfeld. Abysma is the ninth studio album released by Geotic. It debuted on March 31, 2017. The album could be described as a cross between an electronica and indie pop. For Wiesenfeld’s first début on a record label with his side project Geotic, he makes a bold and eccentric presence with Abysma.
Abysma was an accidental discovery during a significant experience of my life. At the time, I subscribed to Google Play Music and I would sometimes receive recommendations for new music to listen to. On March 31, 2017, Google Play suggested Abysma as a new release I might like.
At the time, I was living in Dubrovnik, Croatia on a study abroad exchange. The album quickly became one of my favorites for the remaining two months I spent abroad. After returning to the US, I chose not to renew my subscription. Since I never purchased the album, it was conveniently forgotten after I returned.
Months later, in October, I reviewed some of my top albums from 2017 on Last.fm. I came across Geotic on the list and remembered Abysma. I decided to buy the album and add it to my library. Since then, the album returned to a regular spot on my listening queue.
Thus, perhaps it makes sense that I strongly associate this album to my time living abroad. Frequently, this album was the backdrop to afternoon walks near the Old City of Dubrovnik, long bus rides to Bosnia or Albania, or for studying the week before final exams. Regardless, this album rekindles my imagination for some of my own unique experiences. Therefore, it made sense to include this album in a Tergiversate column.
Deciphering Abysma is a challenge. Most of the record is ambient, with some songs featuring brief, synthesized, and heavily modified vocals. The album artwork is the next biggest hint to themes and meanings of the album.
The following are two themes I identified in Abysma:
- Own worst enemy
- Overcoming hardship
Both themes play a supporting role in each other,.
Own worst enemy
One of the primary themes of the album is recognizing our least desirable qualities of ourselves and letting them overpower our other positive qualities.
The album artwork sets the foundation for this theme, combined with various hints from song titles and mood from each track. The artwork features a sun-bathed, empty room with a rainbow-colored body lain across the floor.
The body appears lifeless as it peers outside the bright window. The body is a metaphor for the bright and wonderful qualities we own, but the room represents a trap. Despite the wonderful qualities inside, we lock ourselves into boxes or rooms where we are unable to see past the walls. We only have a window into the great wonders of life – yet somehow we are not in that picture.
The mood of the album contributes to that idea. Sunspell, the opening track, creates the initial view of the album. The album is reminiscent of a bright, cheery atmosphere, but it seems remote and disconnected at the same time. The sunlight captivates us and puts us under a spell – in the spell, the bright lights of others and the world we see strike us and blind us.
The following tracks continue to build this atmosphere, leaning towards an introspective and oblique feel. Echoing words of “it all makes sense” on Nav feed this idea of deep, intrinsic wonder to ourselves. As the album grows in its mysterious nature, so does the feeling of mental isolation. As Abysma progresses, Geotic puts on a lens of closer and closer self-introspection.
Admittedly, not all the qualities in this lens are the best ones. The theme reaches its climax in Perish Song. The song title leaves little room for second guessing. In the long, drawn-out waves of the synthesizer and delicate piano keystrokes, a listener is left with understanding of a type of depression. It’s reminiscent of the days when our thoughts are self-destructive and harmful.
What it all means
Whether by design or by accident, Geotic forces the listener to find a level of acceptance of their own mind. Throughout life, we sometimes make ourselves our own biggest enemy and showstoppers. Even though we are all filled with a natural bright and illuminating nature (like a child), we can lose sight of that version of our self. This theme is present because we become aware of ourselves when listening. Everyone has been their own hardest critic, and Abysma is a gentle reminder that sometimes we are hardest on ourselves.
Lingering thoughts remain whether the harsh self-criticism is worthy or not, but this is quickly answered at the close of the record.
In a quick turnaround, the last song of the album, Valiance, introduces the second theme and integrates into the different pieces of the previous theme.
The second theme builds on the idea that even in our worst qualities and lowest moments (e.g. Perish Song), we are able to overcome the battle with our mind and find our own peace. After all, the body on the album cover reflects light and echoes the colors of the rainbow – we always possessed the qualities, but perhaps did not recognize them within us.
The high notes and intense energy of Valiance are a contrast to some of the introspective atmospheres earlier in the album. While Valiance is also introspective, it changes the lens. Instead of looking in at our worst qualities, it’s a change in perspective to look at our better qualities. The song almost seems to externalize the hidden energy inside the body on the album cover.
Valiance is a reminder of our ability to find peace with our mind and create our own happiness. It tells and affirms that we can overcome our hardships, whether imposed on us by ourselves or by others.
What it all means
One line from the lyrics of Perish Song are significant. It plays back into the second theme:
The heat of the sun,
Is there if you want.
We decide whether we want to feel the warmth and heat of the sun in our life. We are the ones that make a choice to how we receive the world and our experiences in life.
As a whole, this theme plays into the previous theme because it takes a stark change in direction. But it plays together beautifully. The negative and difficult recognition of our own self as an enemy is challenging. It reminds of our shortcomings, our regrets, our missed opportunities. It becomes easy to pin the blame on ourselves. Not only that, but the awareness can introduce a concern of not being able to overcome our failures.
Yet, the album ends elegantly, brightly, and brilliantly. The closing reminds us that we should always choose the heat of the sun in our life. When we shape our perspective of the world and the people around us, we make a choice for how we receive and interact with it. To make a positive impression of the world and those around us, we must become comfortable with ourselves first. We have to find peace with our own mind before we can find peace with any others.
The closing of Abysma reminds us of that, in a layered progression from recognizing our worst qualities to acknowledging they can always be overcome. Recognizing our worst qualities is challenging, but it’s a challenge we can overcome when we live in the light and warmth. When we choose happiness, love, and compassion, these qualities reflect and echo back to us in life.
Where to find Abysma
Most albums reviewed in Tergiversate focus on the complete album, not each song. Consider making your first listen from top to bottom instead of picking single songs. My experience in music is that great albums offer the most when enjoyed in a single, immersive experience.
Curious where the name “Tergiversate” came from? Check out the dictionary definition.