Who: Neal Wright (keyboards, production, vocals).
For fans of: The Album Leaf, Múm, Brian Eno's Music for Airports series.
Sounds like: An MDMA fever-dream flashback of early adulthood's chill-out tent.
Neal Wright has no problem living in the moment.
He isn't just minding the small, fleeting details of his life, either. He's hunting for them with a recorder and committing them to tape. And with his sparse, melancholic electronic project Wave Collector, Wright is actually repurposing those trivialities—the sounds that come from inanimate objects, like the squeal of friction when you move wood or metal against itself, or the drone of something you hear almost constantly in a workaday situation, like a humming AC unit or a squeaking door—into sonic Polaroids that exist somewhere between a diary entry and a dream.
Wright's foray into ambient electronica was initially intended as a respite from Burner Courage, the full-band project he formed soon after moving to Portland from Boulder, Colo. Suffering from the usual indie-rock pitfalls of struggling to book gigs and get each member to the same level of dedication, Burner Courage amicably split a year before its record was released.
"We'd lost momentum," Wright says. "I was so new to the business of booking and promotion. It was overwhelming."
After getting the Burner Courage LP pressed and released on his own, Wright was able to absolve himself of the ambitions he'd carried from his hometown. Getting the album out acted as a gesture of closure for one project that eventually offered the spark for his next venture. "I was in this new place where I suddenly didn't have bandmates," he says. "It was so freeing to record something and not have to translate it for a band. That really got me excited—to have that outlet of just raw output and full control over when I play shows and what the final composition sounds like."
On Catalog of Stolen Worlds, his first album as Wave Collector, Wright employs found sounds in minimal, restrained flourishes. Snippets of conversation make appearances in and out of their original context, the voyeuristic element lost in a soothing ambient haze of simple, synthetic chord progressions. The bumps, slips and throwaway lines are subsumed back into sparse collages so deceivingly simple you wonder how you could be moved so much by so little. It might not be obvious to the listener, but in that collection of somber notes and tones, Wright is authoring a kind of autobiography, allowing him to relive small moments in time—first as archivist, then later as artist.
"Our memories as human beings kind of take on a life of their own once you add a few years," he says. "I've almost thought of these songs as the way memory is distorted over time. I'm taking something that was fresh and didn't have a lot of context and didn't have time to have emotions attached to it as it was recorded. But as I went back and listened to it, I'm reliving it through the lens of time—looking back on the past with this nostalgia."
SEE IT: Wave Collector plays Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., with Copy and Dylan Stark, on Wednesday, July 6. 8:30 pm. $6 advance, $7 day of show. 21+.