Onuinu is the brain child of Dorian Duvall, a Cleveland native, Portland OR resident, and all around good guy. "Happy Home" offers a taste of the ambient electronica, hip hop , and house concoctions you'll find on his new album, Mirror Gazer.
When asked about his music, Onuinu's Dorian Duvall speaks deftly, using technical terms with great precision. However, when a listener is caught in the throes of his debut full-length, Mirror Gazer, it is nearly impossible to maintain such a steady mental discourse. Each song is teeming with raw wood grains over which to run your fingers and exposed rafters through which to follow countless reverberations. It is a sprawling, mixed-use space where ambient electronica, hip-hop and house music convene to talk in circles about the universe, and frankly, for Duvall, it's just the beginning.
Reared in a quaint suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, Duvall was brought up in a household well-acquainted with the ways and means of music. His grandparents--perhaps better known by their stage names, Mr. and Mrs. Eighty-Eight Keys--laid the groundwork; they spent the better part of the 50s touring the country together as a gospel/honky tonk act. As a result, he spent every Sunday morning of his childhood upright in the front row pew while his grandma played and his mother sang in the choir. Of course, there were a few encounters with organized sports, but Duvall eventually became attuned to his musical roots and, at age 15, traded in his breathable jerseys for a guitar. From there, his evenings were spent in his bedroom, honing his skills for an imaginary audience.
According to Duvall, he had always pictured himself staying in Cleveland; the city sustained him culturally and artistically. Thus, when he moved to Portland, Oregon in 2005, it was for a scholastic pursuit with a perceived end date. Though, when in school, he was faced with the scenario that many creative people find themselves in when they impose academic theory upon their art form; "I was interested in composition, but I wasn't sure I should spend all that time and money studying it when I could just do it," Duvall says. And so, he resigned himself to working and playing in various bands, with intentions of growing as a musician.
Throughout this time period, guitar was still his primary instrument. However, Duvall found himself engaged with music that he felt was properly utilizing electronic instruments; "I bought a sampler and started experimenting, and the guitar fell by the wayside. It was just more fun; I had more options and more freedom to make create different sounds and textures," says Duvall. With his newfound range fully actualized, he took to an eight-track machine and recorded a handful of songs to be sputtered to rewindable film and released by Portland-based, all-cassette label Apes Tapes. In the meantime, though, his songs were drumming up far too much attention to be destined solely for a novelty item's playback.
Thus, with the backing of Portland's ever-nurturing music community, Duvall took to KBC Studios in Northeast Portland with engineer (and now, touring drummer) Jeremy Sherrer. Together, the two laid down the tracks that Duvall had meticulously planned out beforehand, and captured them to tape. "I chose all of the sounds and made all of the beats," Duvall says of the process, "but Jeremy really enhanced the quality of the recording and took my songs to another level." After all of the sounds were in place, the vocals were recorded at The Auditorium--home to Portland's Dandy Warhols--and all of the post-production magic occurred at Sherrer's home studio, Spooky Electric. It took some serious heart from all parties involved, but such is the unwavering metronome that keeps this album on beat.
And in regards to those beats--you know, the ones that permeate the entirety of Mirror Gazer and with it, your whole being--it so happens that in Onuinu's creative world, they emerge first. "Mostly, I'm focussed on making the beats; the vocal melodies, the harmonies, everything else just materializes from there." Thus, you can hear the way the music yields to its backbone; synths swirl around freely and adhere like tendons to its discs, all while causing a surge of dopamine to flood your own spinal column. Songs like "A Step in the Right Direction" and "Ice Palace" feed straight from the live wires that light European discotheques into the wee hours, while "Mirror Gazer," with its many bridges and tunnels, feels like more of a prog-rock production experiment a la Brian Eno. The lithe "Always Awkward" calls upon the ghosts of old-school hip hop and an open highway, and "Last Word" marches valiantly into slow jam territory.
Fresh from his first tour with YACHT, Duvall is now ready to share his rather precocious and exciting export with new audiences; this includes you. Therefore, it's best that you find yourself a nice observatory--preferably one equipped with high fidelity speakers--and allow yourself time to get lost in Onuinu's musical landscape.