Once you discover that Room E is a skinny Asian dude who produces instrumental hip-hop, you might be tempted to think of that other skinny Asian dude who produces instrumental hip-hop: Nosaj Thing, who sits at the center of L.A.’s thriving beat scene. But the labels—musical and ethnic—are where the similarities end. While Nosaj Thing and his cohorts mine production glitches to conjure new shades of darkness, Room E embraces a lighthearted aesthetic on Penguin Child, his first full-length album.
Thanks to the L.A. beat scene, much of instrumental hip-hop has gone harsh, with lots of lo-fi fuzz and glitchy samples pushed past the limits of digital manipulation. Though Room E also employs samples and synthesizers, he takes a more traditional approach on Penguin Child, smoothing the edges to fit the various pieces organically into his compositions. He also incorporates live instruments like xylophones, pianos, accordions and drums.
With all this lush instrumentation, his soundscapes bubble over with joy and serenity. “Migrate” and “Bed & Breakfast” capture the rush of adventure and the discovery of new lands. “Earl Grey” is pure and sweet. The recurring Arctic theme (see tracks “Wooly Mammoth,” “Polar Bear,” “Igloo” and the title track) seems to center not on a snowy environment, but on its delicate beauty.
Room E has a bright future—he recently signed to Proper Songs, a small U.K.-based label that has plans to re-release Penguin Child. But it’s unclear whether he can avoid knee-jerk comparisons to other superficially similar artists. I wouldn’t usually bet on it, but this exuberant, promising album makes me believe it can happen.