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It's 2020, and everyone is exhausted. Things are falling apart, and then there's the day-to-day stress of just existing in the modern world. Screens are everywhere, we're all tethered to our phones and social media; trying to keep up with it all seems just as impossible as unplugging altogether, especially when we're all feeling that neverending push to always be productive—inspiration and motivation be damned.
Like all of us, Photay (a.k.a. Evan Shornstein) struggles with these issues. As a native of Woodstock who grew up surrounded by nature and relative peace, his current life in New York City can feel downright suffocating, yet his latest album finds him facing the problem head on. Entitled Waking Hours, it doesn't offer any surefire antidotes to the intense pressures of the world around us, but it does present an intriguing proposition: perhaps the first step to making things better is for all of us to stop, take a look around, and ask a few questions.
More specifically, Waking Hours (Shornstein's fourth full-length following 2017's Onism), is a meditation on time and our obsessive need to fill every moment with activity. "It's about getting back to a really simple notion of just celebrating your existence and not necessarily attaching this huge story of who you are and what you do," he says. "It's about finding comfort in just being."
Pondering these ideas required stillness, something that's hard for anyone to come by, and doubly so in New York City. Shornstein hoarded it as best he could, whether he was losing himself in the studio or stealing a few quiet moments at home. His search for calm is at the very core of Waking Hours, and while Shornstein admits that making the album was therapeutic, it shouldn't be mistaken for some sort of healing ambient excursion.
Where Onism was a dreamy, awe-filled record inspired by the wonders of nature, Shornstein's new LP frequently verges on pop and extensively features his own vocals. The music is still largely electronic, but it follows paths that not even Shornstein expected to take. "When I was writing, I was listening to tons of ambient and club music," he says. "I remember thinking, 'Where is this pop-leaning stuff coming from?' Singing felt like a new thrill, the next big step outside my comfort zone.”
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