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Ki Oni
A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life Vanessa Ague , August 23rd, 2023 07:59

LA’s Chuck Soo-Hoo makes environmental music with a sense of wonder, finds Vanessa Ague

Ki Oni’s music swirls like a breeze. The ambient project of Los Angeles-based musician Chuck Soo-Hoo, Ki Oni comprises shimmering, feathery tones that bubble up and mysteriously float away as quickly as they appear. Early albums like 2018’s Loxodonta and 2019’s You Made It Out Of The Forest Alive built laid-back rhythmic patterns, while recent works like 2021’s Stay Indoors and Swim take a diaphanous approach, spreading out in broad-strokes. Yet no matter where they go, Ki Oni’s meditative melodies feel bright and look ahead. 

A Leisurely Swim To Everlasting Life, Ki Oni’s latest album, builds on the sprawling and delicate sound of Stay Indoors, but feels grainier. Where Stay Indoors explored the idea of environmental decor, A Leisurely Swim invites careful attention, looking to Pauline Oliveros’ Deep Listening ethos, in which every sound holds weight, as a guide. The album pairs Ki Oni’s usual rounded synth tones with washed-out field recordings of the world around him, cloaking each melody in swooshing trains and sheets of rain that feel wistful, blooming with each repetition. Written after he lost his grandmother, A Leisurely Swim imagines transient souls and draws on distant memories, yet it never feels too dark – instead, Ki Oni teases out the joy in living, even throughout difficult times. 

Much of A Leisurely Swim draws from similar, looping patterns that only vary a tiny bit with each reiteration. It moves in large plumes of glistening, twinkling sounds and field recordings that come in and out of focus. This can lead to monotony, as if each song is simply a retelling of the last. But the subtle details help it chug along, asking you to hear how each melody evolves. On ‘Floating in a Stream of Consciousness’, sparkling twinkles spin around dreamy tones and gradually transform as swishing pulses and the sounds of city life consume them; on ‘My Grandmother’s Garden’, a new, glossy melody emerges with a puff of smoke, taking on a rich and nostalgic tone. Though these shifts are gentle, they alter the sonic palette, taking the music down new paths.

Wonder is the feeling that stays alive through these motions. Ki Oni looks to the future, which makes A Leisurely Swim tread less and swim more. That’s most clear on closer ‘To Wander Beyond The Aquatic Center’, in which the staticky winds that gale throughout feel their loudest and the glimmering synths take a backseat. The melodies feel shrouded, filtered through a filmy lens – yet they continue to grow.