The Director’s Cut: ATTLAS – Out Here With You

Canadian producer ATTLAS has released his new album Out Here With You. Many producers have felt themselves stuck creatively over the past six or seven months, unable to be productive in a pandemic-induced lockdown, plus racial and police violence, while others have had a burst of creative energy. ATTLAS has been the latter, putting together his second album of the year, following his LP released at the top of the year Lavender God.

ATTLAS describes Out Here With You as “calmer and more hopeful… the result of the small areas of positivity we can still control this year, like fresh air and adventures with my best friend.” It is often beatless and much more soothing, like a walk through nature on a sunny day with someone you care about. It is those moments of sunshine that can feel even more poignant when life around you is swirling a million miles a minute.

Melodies flutter, flicker and fly for as smooth an album you will hear all day. We are almost at the finish line everyone, but there will be a few more bumps in the road. This is an album we will need right now with its calming spirit and cheery feel. The album finale is an epic 10 minutes long.

To get a better idea of the ideas behind the album, the people and the nature that influenced it and more, ATTLAS dived into the LP, track-by-track, for a Director’s Cut feature. Pick up your copy of the album here via mau5trap and listen below.

1. Morning Fields

So I always loved albums that established the context and geography of the music right off the bat. Sgt Peppers, Tomorrow's Harvest – from the first notes, the ensuing narrative and sonic scope is announced. Out Here With You is very much about these pastoral places, these wild places that have been the rays of hope through an extremely confusing and challenging year. In one sense, “Morning Fields” is the start of a day, start of the album.

More personally and less conceptually, the song is about the early mornings driving back from my girlfriend's place in rural Ontario. Early morning nurse shifts for her at the hospital mean we get to see a lot of sunrises and sunsets on those drives in and out, and one particular bit of beauty about these drives is they coincide right when the deer get brave enough to leave the dark peace of the woods and embrace the dew and sun-tipped edges of fields.

2. Polar Concept

This was the first track I really wrote for the album, and reflecting on it now is almost surreal. The reality that surrounded me when it was conceived was totally different than the one where it's being released. I had a bad accident in the last months of 2019, and it completely transformed my day-to-day. Going from an avid runner and active outdoorsman, I was left in constant pain that prevented sleep for more than 40 minutes at a time, the inability feel my left foot for more than two months, and the drugs I took to help with the nerve damage and pain left me mentally foggy at best, creatively useless at worse. As the treatment improved to where I could sit in a chair again, this was the first idea that broke through those clouds. The moment of jubilant release in the song is a shout of hope, and means as much to my personal narrative as it belongs to the story of the album. I could speak more technically about the record, I'm sure, but I'll never hear it without putting myself right in that physical and mental state again, and that's as crucial to understanding it as the melodies and arps that drive the track forwards.

3. Uour

One of the more fun records I've written in a while. It has a warmth, but an ambiguous warmth because the track never uses that third or sixth note in the scale that would have tipped it into being written in a major or minor key. It's those big sus2 chords and patterns of texture and synth prints that drive the thing forward. I was big on the push/pull tension during the breakdowns as well, and with the way I like building my edits for live sets it definitely gives me options for using vocals and additional melodies on top of it, maybe as close to a DJ tool record as I have to work with, but also just as solid as a late night driving record. It's hard to know when another show will happen given the pandemic restrictions, so you have to consider the new contexts for experiencing these records. For me, this one is late night drives or going on runs by the lake.

4. Seabreeze

I had been writing elements for this track for a while, and always felt it was missing just a bit of arrangement to tie it all together. I don't know if there was enough with that first ii – iV – I chord progression, but once the section at 2:00 arrives and we're into the IV – V – vi pattern, it gives me a chance to really introduce those emerging counter melodies towards the track's climax.

5. Thunderstorms From The Balcony

This is a track that's pretty obviously an illustration of its title, and not one of those cases where you search and re-name tracks post-completion to give the album a more consistent aesthetic. Small moments that matter, right? This is as much a poem as I could muster up sonically about those very times me and my girlfriend would sit on my apartment's balcony and watch the storm clouds roll in and open up over the lake and the parks in my home city (Toronto). The sound of the cars, the rain bouncing loudly off roofs and sidewalks, more quietly off the trees and grasses and pedestrians. The piano pieces were largely improvised at the onset of writing, deliberate in the way they use those descending, falling notes as rain drops moving from high to low through the atmosphere, through the piano keys. Like a lot of the music on this album, the record brings me to a very specific and very lovely memory. And what a perfect little line to begin with, “gee, seems like the summer just started!” that was taken from an old public domain educational film from the 1950s.

6. When We Were The Same

Comparison is the thief of joy, I know, but this is really a personal favorite from the album. Or at least it's the one I come back to for re-listens above all else. In my head, this has always been my version of a War on Drugs record. The long, melancholic chord changes, the dreamy spacey reverbed-out plucks and lead lines, and a narrative progression that swells and catches its breath though is never in a hurry. The title itself is actually from another recording of mine, albeit one from years ago when I thought I was going to be a folk singer. Sentimental initially, the track's mood and title refer to something much different in the Covid era. There's a bit of nostalgia in the production decisions as well – it's much less about tricks and big individual moments than it is about looking at the track as a whole. There are so many ways the title applies to the way I'm writing music and approaching the industry too. There were times when I felt more aligned with where things were headed globally, musically, socially, environmentally, but the track isn't a present tense one, it's a past tense title. To refer to a time when we “were” the same implies that in the now, we aren't. So what changed, or who? Melancholic musings and the boy at the piano (me) have no answers, and you aren't always going to get them.

7. In A Cloud

You know, these samples from public domain films really gave an extra dimension to these tracks. I'm usually hesitant with suggesting too obvious an interpretation to the tracks, but in this case I think they give just the amount of emotional nudging – playful, sincere, relatable but the aged quality of the samples imbues it with a bit more timelessness. Definitely a warm reflective record. I had played with over-stuffing it, more percussion, bigger energy, but it really felt forced to me. Once again I go back to the environments and moods in which this album will be listened to.

8. Ponds

“Ponds” was a joy to work on, mainly because of that piano melody. I play a lot of piano, which unsurprisingly leads to the chord progressions and voicings therein I lean upon. Some days you're fighting it, some days you get a blessing in the form of a melody that feels like it's just using you as the vessel. That's how this one felt, as natural as if it was in my fingers from birth. The title refers to a beautiful bit of protected land that's home to gorgeous lotus ponds, wetlands, and rare birds. One of my favorite memories is getting just drenched in a storm – the skies just opened on us. You're soaked so quick that there's no use in running to shelter, so you find a new bliss in the way these ponds come alive and dance with the falling water from above. If it feels like these tracks and their write ups are a form of a musical diary of what these last months have been, it's because that's largely what the role of my writing has been for myself lately. There's been a ton of negative, a ton of worry, very little sleep, but I wanted to make sure I'm writing about the positive, the moments that I feel truly alive and blessed to be able to live the things I've lived. Those moments look and feel a lot different than they did a year ago, but they're still there if I make an effort of looking.

9. MGT

So the MGT is the Martin Goodman Trail, a long trail for running and biking along the Toronto Waterfront on Lake Ontario. The backdrop of so much of the way I deal with stress, anxiety, set goals, work off wine… is running. Running without a doubt saved my life (and I know I've written many tracks about running already, going back to “Further” as the most obvious example). This is my little ode to all the calm my spirit and body have benefited from running up and down that trail in every bit of weather imaginable. The humid and sticky August runs, the pitch-black barren snow-swept January runs, and everything in between. 

It's the line on the water's edge that separates the city from the deep dark waters of the Lake, and the joy of my life is getting out there – putting one foot in front of the next as therapy, as goal setting, as distraction. Some days, the only thing in my life I feel that I can control is “how far” and “how fast.” Everything else feels like an ungraspable tornado of unpredictability, and on those days more than ever you need a reminder of the autonomy you possess to craft your own story.

10. Out There With You

I've had this project "on the go" for a few years now. It was one I always liked working on, adding a counter melody here, a new harmony there, a breakdown that leads into another section, etc. But it never got released. I would send it to friends and family, make a few changes, but it was mostly just something nice to listen to. It's not inventing anything, melodic/progressive house records like this have existed before, but it was nice to have something on here that my friends liked to listen to. Maybe that's what a lot of this writing is about, the musical equivalent of cooking for your friends. You aren't chasing Michelin stars and foodie cred, you're taking the tools and ingredients you know and making something you can happily share with your friends. 

That's the way this track has lived for years, and it was the perfect time to clean it up and get it out there. It reminds me of those classic Paul Keeley or Shingo Nakamura records. I would love listening to them as they seemed to know just the right times to let a groove play out, and when to offer a new development along the narrative in the form of a melody, new pattern, texture or pad. It's not the most succinct record, but you'd be surprised the way 10 minutes can disappear when you like the way the story's going. Time flies when you're having fun, they say.