The Los Angeles beat collective and label WEDIDIT’s music runs the gamut of modern electronic production, but its affiliates all seem to mine a singular sense of weirdness. Artists like Shlohmo and Ryan Hemsworth have meandered around cerebral electronic and R&B, while RL Grime hits the festival circuit and fills larger rooms with more aggressive, conventional EDM. D33J, née Djavan Santos, has long been an integral behind-the-scenes member of the well-branded WEDIDIT crew, but he’s just now stepping fully out on his own with a full-length debut, Death Valley Oasis. It’s a well-timed introduction given that, together with Shlohmo, Santos has produced the entirety of the high-profile debut from Corbin—the divisive and haunted, sad-boy R&B sensation who used to go by Spooky Black. In his collaborations with Corbin and Shlomo, Santos rarely produces cold club tracks and instead leans into dance-infused R&B that sounds densely overgrown.
For his part, Santos, a guitarist and electronic producer, is a formally-schooled sound maker—he studied experimental audio at the San Francisco Art Institute—and his productions are immersive. Like the surreal lushness the title suggests, Death Valley Oasis frequently plunges underwater. Texturally, the synths ripple and gurgle outright; compositionally, the sounds pool and swirl together. On elegant synth tracks like “Endless Fall” and “Black Ice,” delicate new sounds seem to rise unseen and then envelope the mix completely. It’s an effect that feels like swimming through a warm patch in a cold ocean, where the edge of the change is indiscernible and porous. Like they are on most of the songs Santos sings himself, the lyrics are an afterthought and his voice is often rendered as a murmuring atmospheric element.
The album’s guest vocalists fare better as leads. “Spark,” which features the nimbly experimental vocalist Deradoorian, is the fizziest of the bunch. With her variously soaring and whispering vocals, Deradoorian gives the electronic power pop song a peculiar effervescence. Santos’ fellow Anticon signee Baths turns up on “Wisp,” his single voice manipulated into a Gothic choir-like effect over a punchy, sentimental dance track. If not for their pinging melody, the percolating synths that poke through the surface might sound glitchy, but D33J almost never lets his sounds turn frigid, imbuing even his sharpest percussion with a mellow warmth.