Gravel is an attempt to capture the contradictory thoughts that trip up your head at 3 a.m. Gravel is the soundtrack to sleepless nights spent ruminating on both right and wrong decisions. Gravel is the new Anticon EP from Djavan Santos, better known as D33J.
Upon first listen, its aquatic textures, faded neon haze, and blend of 808 drums and lo-fi desk claps, might recall D33J’s fellow Weditit Collective family, Ryan Hemsworth and Shlohmo. But closer listening reveals that D33J’s experiments yield a unique alchemy.
“It was about self-reflection—trying to replicate the feeling of sitting alone after you get home late, still drunk and on drugs,” D33J says. “You’re high and thinking about life and whether these stoned thoughts are even worth anything in the end?”
The record was created during D33J’s stint living with 30 people in a warehouse in downtown San Francisco. The building was essentially an art frat called “The Matrix 1061,” with almost all the inhabitants engaging in some form of creative project. Adding to the artistic ferment was the fact that only two rooms got natural sunlight. You can hear this darkness and fluorescent light in the tones of Gravel.
“My room lacked sunlight, so if I wanted to escape the social mosh-pit I’d turn the lights off and pretend I was gone—sometimes for hours,” D33J says. “I’m self-conscious of my singing, so I’d sing into the computer mic so people wouldn’t hear my vocals bleeding through the paper thin walls.”
This experiment from necessity led to the record’s particularly intimate vibe. It’s only light is the one emanating from lit spliffs and the LED glow of the computer screen. It boasts a weird digital rawness destined to feel vintage in some far-off future.
But don’t pigeonhole D33J as just another bedroom producer with low Serotonin levels. Gravel’s gestation merely occurred during a period of great flux. Raised in Los Angeles, the 22-year old graduated from Hamilton High’s Music program (Baths, Syd the Kid, Groundislava) and San Francisco Art Institute before making Gravel. He studied experimental audio and visual design and applied the theories and emotion to his record—most of it recorded over just one month.
The finished result is not just only aesthetically cohesive record, but also one that bristles with the uneasy feeling of living in a compressed space. Largely a one-man project, D33J also pulled in a friend and neighbor, “Kreyola” to contribute vocals whenever he’d be walking down the hallway. He’d record stream-of-consciousness vocals, which D33J would chop up later. The producer applied some of that technique to his own vocals as well.
This is Gravel broken to bits—an attempt to find organic light in unnatural darkness. A familiar feeling that feels somehow foreign. This is the album that you want to hear as you attempt to drift off to sleep.