The multi-instrumental force of nature known as J. Hubner has been at the music-making game for nearly 15 years now. Goodbyewave’s beautiful indie pop first hit ears in 2002, and the more brash, edgy and improvisational Cambodia Highball project came along in 2014, as did the instrumental improv of Dream District. Meanwhile, the Warsawnaut has also been creating satisfying and emotionally forthright tunes under his own moniker. As the new year swims into focus, Hubner greets it with a return to instrumental music, this one entitled Sidewalks. According to the man himself, the project first took root as “an audio/visual collaboration” between Hubner and a graphic designer/musician friend. The work stalled, but Hubner eventually revived the musical side of the project upon discovering what would be its new central sonic focus: an analog synthesizer.
Each of the pieces on Sidewalks pulses and buzzes in its own way, with synth figures ringed by looped guitars—sometimes identifiable as such, often rendered by effects into something resembling synths themselves. You can all but see opening credits in a film popping up as the looping “sidewalks (Main Theme)” unfolds. “Complex Distraction” follows, full of strident, layered synths. You don’t need to be aware of the genesis of this album to appreciate Hubner’s use of repetitive, simple instrumental figures on sidewalks. And fans of composers like Cliff Martinez, Mac Quayle and, yes, John Carpenter will appreciate the starkness, tension and old-school vibe evident in these songs. If you’re a newbie and you can’t get enough of the sinister throb that introduced the Stranger Things title card on Netflix, then you’re in luck.
But Sidewalks doesn’t strive to simply ape these styles; at most, it’s homage. And if you’re at all familiar with Hubner’s other work, you’ll recognize his musical detail work nestled within the cracks of these moody movements.
“Past the Present (Into the Past),” but for its thrumming synth bass, could have been a long intro on one of Hubner’s past releases. Other highlights include the airy and majestic “Particles (Blown Away),” the dark, cycling “Desolation” and “Blacklight,” which ever-so-slightly recalls Radiohead’s Kid A ventures.
It’s worth following Hubner as he follows his inspiration because sometimes he arrives at places you wouldn’t expect. And here we are. The best way to listen to Sidewalks is to simply give it time and let it pull you in. It will. Let it be your personal soundtrack for a while.