The new album by Singaporean producer fzpz (real name Jarren Lim) is appropriately titled: ‘Death Signs’, his first project in two years, fixates less on throbbing rhythm and more on subtle stimulation. The record, particularly and somewhat surprisingly, ruminates in the same late-night space as the Quiet Storm era, the mid-’70s R&B radio format that normalised outward displays and professions of romance and sensuality previously only “expected” from women. ‘Death Signs’ is, in a word, balmy: its effect is most palpable when you’re on your lonesome, in the quiet.
fzpz’s catalogue is largely rhythmic and beat-oriented: in 2018, he released the hip-hop-influenced ‘Hidden Personas’ EP on Singapore-based electronic music label Darker Than Wax. But his style also carries an organic mystique that’s fully displayed on ‘Death Signs’. Textures are thick and viscous, husky guest vocals are cocooned in lush, synth-heavy arrangements dripping with lust, favouring subtlety and sophistication. It’s more reiterative than inventive approach to the genre, yes, but it’s far from pedestrian.
fzpz has described ‘Death Signs’ as “a break from the maximalist electronic music culture” and “explorations into the more conceptual realms of music.” The 15-track album is not your traditional concept album, though, and hinges on the ability of electronic music to blur straightforward narrative by following instinct and toying with mood. fzpz is generous in pacing and minding his tempos: he knows when to apply his jazz inflections (‘Paintings of Oia’, ‘Latex Black’, ‘Lumens’)—which are more pronounced in the album’s second half—and when to apply tender force, especially in its vocal offerings. It doesn’t get lost in niches and obscure musical references, making the album generally accessible, though more suitable for an adult audience.
Ultimately, it’s the contributions of fzpz’s guest artists that effectively make ‘Death Signs’ a record that reinterprets the Quiet Storm era’s smooth, domesticated yet romantic strain of R&B radio. On ‘Slow’ featuring Malaysian singer-songwriter and producer Shelhiel, ‘Ongoing Calls’ with Singapore/Indonesia producer Jema (formerly known as Gema) and ‘Behold’, featuring fellow Singaporean artist Bravepaper, fzpz’s production merely lays the foundation for their sultry vocals. The first two slow burns relay intimacy through the lens of desire and longing, while ‘Behold’ briefly renders dejection. They all profess powerlessness and maybe even romanticised pain, but pain nonetheless.
The album’s vignettes enhance the emotional arc of these nocturnal meditations. ‘Love House’ glides through brisk hi-hats and broody synth lines; ‘Inward Looker’ juxtaposes fluid keys with chopped and screwed scat; the percussive ‘Subterranean Imagination’ and deep house number ‘Deep Dive’ are tightly constructed, adding dimension to the project and taking it far beyond a mood collage. It’s these details that let fzpz’s instincts as a beat practitioner shine as he lets his creative reflexes lead. Penultimate track ‘Crimson Burst’ – another album standout – synthesises grooves succinctly, emphasising exciting turns and details.
‘Death Signs’ closes with ‘How Beginnings Came To Be’, a sombre cut compared to everything else that preceded it. It starts with what sounds like old, sampled dialogue from television then drifts off to a dream-like realm, with lofty and twinkly synths interspersed with wobbly bass that dissolve into an ambient fog. In the fadeout, fzpz seems to broach the possibility that endings are not always what they seem to be. That we can, if we want to, just start again.
- Release date: August 24
- Record label: Independent