Credit: Ward Robinson
Pictureplane’s music has always explored a delicate tension. For the better part of a decade and a half, the Brooklyn-based producer born Travis Egedy has made music that exists at the porous borders of darkness and light, noise and melody, agony and ecstasy. With worldbuilding and emotion at the project’s core, Pictureplane has become a bellwether in a troubled world, surveying the gloom and straining for reasons to trudge onward. Somehow, he always does.
The year that led up to his new album, Dopamine, was as troubling for Egedy as it was for the rest of us. Coupled with the “apocalyptic” experience of living in a big city during a pandemic— the drone of ambulance sirens ringing out every day in the early months of 2020—Egedy also experienced some devastating personal setbacks. Just as the lockdown began, his garage studio was robbed of all of his musical equipment. He admits he was “shocked and confused,” at first, but he had help. His fans donated to a fundraiser which allowed him to get all new equipment. Though the loss of his gear set him back a few months, the break, as well as the immense gratitude for the support he received during that time, gave him new creative life. “People cared enough about me and my art that they wanted me to continue doing this, you know?” he explains. “Losing everything was bittersweet. I’m almost glad that it happened.”
Dopamine, named for the neurotransmitter that plays a role in how we feel pleasure, is a document of that whole period: the isolation, the grief, the appreciation, the growth. Songs like album opener “Avalanche” document the prickly, personal intensity of the time. He sings about self-harm and suffocation, and yearns for contact with a person he hasn’t seen in a long time. And yet, there’s comfort, too. The instrumental feels airy and bright, a daydream soundtracked by shoegazey wisps and shuddering breakbeats. The pain is real, he seems to suggest, but with time, everything might just work out in the end. “It's hard to not get cynical when you get older,” Egedy says. “I'm not sure how I stay positive. I just have fundamental beliefs and hopes in the human spirit that people really do want to do good in the world and help move things forward.”
This is one of the ideas that’s motivated him since he first started making music as Pictureplane. Coming up in the 2000s DIY scene in Denver, Egedy learned that people have the power to transform the world around them. He lived in legendary art space Rhinoceropolis, where he and friends and collaborators transformed a grungy warehouse into a vibrant hub for art and expression. Through throwing shows and parties, and becoming a part of the community, he could be a part of something bigger than himself—he could change things. “The desire to create your own reality has always been a big part of what Pictureplane is,” Egedy explains. “Anything is possible, anything is achievable. That’s what I’m trying to talk about in my music.”
With this spirit driving the prolific Pictureplane catalog, he’s created a sonic universe that can swallow countless sounds. Across beloved records like his 2009 propulsive breakthrough Dark Rift, the borderline erotic 2011 effort Thee Physical, and his gloom-embracing masterwork, 2018’s Degenerate, he’s made noise-blistered dance, gothic pop, and otherworldly ambiance. More often than not, he’s smashing all of that and more into darkly delirious blends that feel absolutely singular. The way he thinks about music was innovative from the jump.
Coming out on the boundary-pushing Fuglestadphotography label, Dopamine continues in this expansive tradition. Per Egedy, it’s one of the freer records he’s ever made. He’d once burdened himself with thematic concepts or specific styles he needed to explore, but he took the fan support as a sort of creative blank check to explore his strangest impulses. There’s the aforementioned fuzz-heavy drum’n’bass tracks, emotional EBM, and open-hearted techno tracks, all sidling up against one another. He also welcomes a few of his friends from the emo-rap collective GothBoiClique (Fish Narc on “Underwater Panther,” Yawns and Wicca Phase Springs Eternal on “Black Chardonnay) which lends even more emotion and depth to his widescreen vision.
Though the record was born from turbulence and trials, all of these sonic twists and turns make Dopamine feel buoyant and alive, which seems to be the point. The chorus of the title track—a love song—sums up the feeling succinctly: “I get so alive when I feel her,” Egedy sings. “Sitting here watching the paint dry in the Anthropocene.” The world may feel overwhelming, painful, or banal, but if you look hard enough, there’s always something that makes it worth pressing on.