Oakland-based composer, Makeunder (aka Hamilton Ulmer) creates music that is difficult to define. This is possibly due to the fact that he is coming from a very deep, authentic place when creating it, avoiding the trap of chasing trends or confining his sound to a certain genre.
Ulmer’s debut EP, Radiate Satellite was an eclectic, orchestral project that memorialized his late grandfather. The EP was recorded on a laptop microphone with instruments he had inherited from his grandfather while cleaning out his parents’ house, and therefore felt like a completely unique, often alien-like listening experience. In 2015, he released the Great Headless Blank EP, a project full of tragedy, recounting the lead-up and aftermath of Hamilton’s father dying.
On his forthcoming LP, Pale Cicada, Hamilton tells the story of his family’s move from Humboldt County, California to San Antonio, Texas at the height of the 1970’s counter culture movement. Transitioning from a wooded, rural, alternative community like Humboldt, to a loud, humid, conservative working-class city like San Antonio was a huge culture shock for the boy. Hamilton’s family never quite fit in – his father in particular, an eccentric and emotionally closed-off artist, struggled to find his way in the world, even to his death.
Hamilton channels the angst of these early years into dizzying Stevie Wonder meets Prince psychedelia, charting a new path into bright, bold and boundless musical landscapes. Some of albums most memorable moments come courtesy of his collaborator, Tune-Yards’ bassist Nate Brenner (responsible for some of the most incredible low end melodies in recent years.) Brenner is a perfect compliment for Ulmer’s wily musical odysseys, holding everything down with his strange, heavy, often dissonant bass lines.
Pale Cicada is ultimately about growing up in a place where you don’t belong and Hamilton is able to broadcast this struggle through a broader political lens. “I want to give people an escape from the anxiety and grind of their daily lives – at least for a little bit,” Ulmer reflects. And with a project like Makeunder that’s too big and too loud to ignore: Hamilton has done just that, crafting his own alternative to the routine of day-to-day life.