erasing clouds

Orange Cake Mix, Infinite Beauty and Warm Velvet Static

review by Dave Heaton

In the liner notes to his latest full-length, Infinite Beauty, Jim Rao, aka Orange Cake Mix, writes, "On this CD, I tried to create a soundtrack/song cycle that would project images of nature, peacefulness, love and infinite beauty. did I succeed?" Does he even need to ask? That description sounds like every Orange Cake Mix release. Jim Rao is constantly creating gorgeous ambient pop albums, music equally built on the prettiest love ballads you've ever heard on the radio and the dreamiest soundscapes you've ever sunk yourself into for a nap.

Meditative and pretty, Infinite Beauty includes sweet love songs ("Flashing Down"), peaceful songs about solitary reflection ("Stone Heaven in Your Mind"), and songs where Rao sounds lost in a hazy dream, which he pulls us right into ("Catch a Falling Star"). The album on the whole seems rooted in the way the mind interprets and is inspired by the world around us. In particular there's more of an emphasis on the natural world than on some of the more spacebound OCM releases; gardens, rivers, trees and sunshine are continuing themes. Yet you also always have the feeling of being inside someone's mind, listening to his dreams and intimate thoughts.

Orange Cake Mix feels like a personal project, and it is; all of the sounds are coming from one man. In this case, the dominant instruments are synthesizers, drum machines and other electric what-nots, but there's also some nice moments where Rao's voice is gently supported by a solitary guitar. The liner notes reveal some of the guitar playing as coming from Rao listening to Elliott Smith. Indeed, if it isn't clear from the music that Rao takes inspiration from a variety of pop forms, it's crystal-clear from these liner notes (and even clearer if you read the great, detailed interview the web zine Perfect Sound Forever did with Rao last May). On Infinite Beauty Orange Cake Mix draws on some of the sweetest, most romantic, most blissful pop music of the last century to create his own unique, comforting landscape of sound.

Another recent Orange Cake Mix release, the 20-minute mini-album Warm Velvet Static is a spectacularly fuzzy and spaced-out mellow sound-trip, with evocative song titles like "Spaced Out Spaceman," "Land of 1,000,000 Swimming Pools" and "The Last Rays of a Soft October Sun Shining Through the Curtains." Here Rao's voice is as likely to rise up mysteriously from an expanse of static and odd samples as it is to sing a straightforward pop ballad. Warm Velvet Static is at times more experimental than most OCM releases--many of songs have a sound-collage angle to them--yet still filled with gorgeous melodies, either sung or crisply played on guitar.

For information on Infinity Beauty, visit Chocolat Art Returns.
For information on Warm Velvet Static, visit Mobstar.
For information on Orange Cake Mix, visit his web site.

Issue 11, October 2002 | next article

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