Inner Ocean Records - BLESS Vol. 2

( Artwork:    Zom Kashwak  )

(Artwork: Zom Kashwak)

Discovering new producers in the realm of instrumental hip-hop and jazz can be challenging. Songs often go as quickly as they come. Artist names are nondescript and sometimes impossible to find through search engines. The process of music discovery itself can seem elusive in this sub-genre. Sitting down with a new beat tape from a reputable collective can be a fruitful way to overcome this challenge.

The collectives - independent labels from across the world which vary in their sophistication and infrastructure - track and compile the best in beats for their compilations. By doing so they make music more accessible to fans. They offer a harmless shortcut through the process of music discovery, and become a tool that enables the listener to dig deeper.

Few imprints make this process as easy and enriching as Inner Ocean Records, the progressive independent label based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada that today presents the second iteration of their seminal BLESS compilation series. BLESS Vol. 2 is a triumph of curation, offering almost four hours of music from 99 producers. The producers range in notoriety from globally ranking beat legends like Vancouver's bsd.u to individuals like Mojarra - Da Smokefish from Colombia who has 24 Soundcloud followers. 

Bless Vol. 2  gives a nod to the international nature of the beats community. Artists on the compilation represent 25 countries. The cover art was designed across the world from Calgary by Zom Kashwak of the Philippines. With almost 100 contributing producers of varying backgrounds, styles, and sounds, the sonic aesthetic across the compilation is startlingly consistent. That's not to say it's flat or unvaried, rather that certain common threads run throughout it.

The music is not hard or particularly rough-hewn, although STLNDRMS from Atlanta, Georgia has a nice cut on there. Its not exceedingly jazzy despite contributions from artists like ØDYSSEE of Paris, France. The BLESS series curates more specifically towards the spacey, airy, experimental side of beats music. Take for example the string of tracks on Side A from "forgettable" by baechulgi to "[dragon.wave]" by Borealism. These are ethereal, meditative soundscapes as much ambient music as hip-hop. This run includes our favorite track on the compilation, "Somber" by G Mills. With a project so large and diverse, future listening is bound to reveal hidden gems and new favorites, of course. For now the perfected alignment in  "Somber" has us hooked. But find your way to the back of Bless Vol. 2 and you're bouncing disembodied in a raw, stoned, trip hop sound approached from another angle entirely. 

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The BLESS series is compiled through submission, then selection. Artists submit three tracks to Inner Ocean, and the label picks one to include. Inner Ocean's Creative Director Mike MacDonald heads up the intake process. Though he's been full-time with Inner Ocean for under a year, Mike and Inner Ocean's founder Cory Giordano have known each other in Calgary for almost a decade. Processing the submissions can be consuming, surely, but Mike appreciates the end result. “When I was young and making beats, if I had the opportunity to get on a compilation from a label that I knew, I would have shit my pants," Mike told me over evening coffees off Union Square in New York City. He's wearing a beanie, a flannel shirt with asymmetrical paneling, and a constant, compelling grin. "It would have pushed me to go further, you know? You need some resistance in everything you do, but you need a cookie every once in a while too. You need a rewards system and a resistance system.” 

The spaced-out lo-fi vibe is less dominant on Vol. 2 than it was on Bless Vol. 1The first installment in the BLESS series was co-curated by Saikei Collective out of the Philippines and O-nei-ric Tapes out of Syndey, Australia. Both of these imprints are out there in terms of their sound, particularly the latter. They were not directly involved in the curation of Vol. 2. The quasi-psychedelic tone they set carries over, but there's more jazz, more lounge. 

O-nei-ric has since stopped pressing physical tapes citing a lack of sales, and Saikei has dramatically scaled back its releases. In late 2017, Saikei offered a compilation with a title typifing the tongue-in-cheek self-deprecation one sometimes sees in the online lo-fi community, "SAIKEI COLLECTIVE IS DED LMAO". It's no small challenge to remain commercially viable as an independent label while trafficking in content like instrumental hip-hop that has traditionally lacked broad commercial appeal. That Inner Ocean Records remains not only viable but vibrant is a testament to their quality curation and their organizational strength. The label doesn't retain any of the proceeds from the Bless series, though. According to their website;

100% of the proceeds from the sale of BLESS Vol.2 will be donated to a variety of Micro Loan programs for Women, Sustainable Water and Agriculture projects, Refugees, Education, Health Care and the Arts. The funds from the Micro Loans are paid back over time and it’s our promise to the supporters of this album that we will perpetually reinvest those funds back into future Micro Loans. This way the funds can continue to support people who need it for many years ahead.

Inner Ocean releases a ton of LPs and EPs, but Cory favors the inclusivity that compilations afford. "Compilations are perfect, because everyone can be featured," he said in the coffee shop, stirring over a tea. "I'm feeling good about this tea thing," he said to Mike, joking but only slightly. (See track 73 on the compilation, "Coffee Cult" by Ridhorules). Cory wore a black Inner Ocean crew neck with the label's signature swirl logo dominating his torso. He's soft-spoken and more overtly philosophical than Mike. Their demeanors are synchronized only in their mutual affinity for the beanie. "I never want to be that label that says 'we only do this or we only work with these people'. I want anybody who’s doing something cool to be able to say ‘hey I’m going to get in on that’."

Inner Ocean releases always come within at least one physical formatBless Vol. 2 is available on cassette tape, the lo-fi trademark, but the label has also decided to press a selection of tracks onto a limited double LP crowdfunded through Q-rates. We're eager to find out which tracks are selected. In the interim, we offer our favorites cuts from each tape side of the compilation.

Inner Ocean strives to release music that will still resonate three to five to ten years into the future. By compiling stellar work with a concentrated aesthetic from both the world's best beat makers and unknown bedroom producers, they've hit their mark yet again with Bless Vol. 2. To ensure your own experience with this compilation lasts, pick up a hard copy over on their website. Bless up. 

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C1 - organic_kid - Crises      
C2 - Harris Cole - Glas    
C3 - Stan Forebee - The Calm      
C4 - drkmnd - Loop For Thought      
C5 - Blankanvas - GLOOM      
C6 - biosphere - A Lonely Journey     
C7 - Poik Lounge - Albert Hoffman's Diary    
C8 - Senoy x Joce - Dust House     
C9 - Jake and Bake Beats - Medulla Oblongata       
C10 - elginnnn - Stay Over If U Want     
C11 - Odeeno - Dullforest      
C12 - Smika - Orange      
C13 - ZOD1AC - Khosmos     
C14 - Howiewonder - Black Maybe      
C15 - Mojarra DaSmokefish - Culture     
C16 - IAMSENPAI - Day or Night       
C17 - Don_Solo - Serenade     
C18 - Furozh - Dem Lights      
C19 - Vagabond Maurice & Brad Kemp - String From the Sky       
C20 - Jung Fellaz - Cosmopolitics         
C21 - Drips Zacheer - Earthlike      
C22 - Behind Clouds - We Wander Into The Sky Hoping Never To Be Found        
C23 - bloom - Up In The Clouds     
C24 - linanthem - Gratitude      
C25 - Ridhorules - Coffee Cult        

D1 - Jack Dean - Porch     
D2 - GoldenChild - Fallin In’     
D3 - Phoenix Manson - Portsea     
D4 - jus. - On It         
D5 - One t.w.o - Mpcissle      
D6 - Skullkid - Rift       
D7 - Slumgod - p o w e r g l i d e         
D8 - Dayzero - Central Airport        
D9 - Yume - b r o o k l y n s u m m e r       
D10 - Urban Shaman - Kings     
D11 - pjzero - The Rainy    
D12 - Mora - falling.      
D13 - Wise One - Aye     
D14 - Limbo - Bumpy Ride    
D15 - Joe Nora - Hope I'm Never Like That      
D16 - Sohee x Adalei's - Stiffyready      
D17 - Aair - Night      
D18 - Grumpysnorlax - Float     
D19 - Cocoamilo - Limonada      
D20 - BIDO - exp.      
D21 - ChasBeats - Smoke Under The Stars      
D22 - Bretsil and Mirrorish - Dreaming  
D23 - Type Raw - Kankickz     
D24 - JFilt - Sunny Georgia      
D25 - Druid - Cold Water     
D26 - Soul Choppa- Sunsets       


A1 - TiMT - Bury the Past (feat.Haruki Ishida)      
A2 - Nymano - Summer Bump     
A3 - Bunko Stew - Surmount      
A4 - Kazumi Kaneda - Laser        
A5 - Funkonami - Rolling Through      
A6 - Telemakus - Relax       
A7 - STLNDRMS - Coolin       
A8 - bsd.u - 4 [bump]       
A9 - Oatmello - Piazza      
A10 - fantompower - The Universe Inside You      
A11 - baechulgi - Forgettable       
A12 - G Mills - Somber        
A13 - Idealism - Walk        
A14 - Arbour (x _houseplants) - Fresh Air       
A15 - Borealism - [dragon.wave]         
A16 - Defla - Warcry
A17 - EMERLD - Special K       
A18 - Dominic Pierce - Dark Coconut      
A19 - Goosetaf - Waterfalls        
A20 - BROCKBEATS - Scenery         
A21 - Mecca:83 -Preach! (feat brothermartino)     
A22 - ØDYSSEE - Amaranth       
A23 - RoY. - SynTaX (Prod.Alzeus)      
A24 - Kawfee - Almost Home   

B1 - Rhakim Ali - The Lounge           
B2 - shogonodo - Some Clouds In My Head     
B3 - Knowmadic - Flow   
B4 - Radicule. - Rose og++     
B5 - BryZone_ybp - Forgive Me    
B6 - Arvo To Me - hshshs     
B7 - tkdwn. - (you can) get thru    
B8 - Seneca B - Moons       
B9 - plcmnt - Circular          
B10 - Smeyeul. - Bless Up    
B11 - mingi pak - Clouds.    
B12 - PRGMAT - Ignoresation      
B13 - Kreaem - L'apre midi       
B14 - lucky.s - Cathartic    
B15 - RudeManners - In Da Hood     
B16 - Sadiva - Learning       
B17 - SHHP - Cosmic Love     
B18 - Dominic J. Marshall - Sardonyx          
B19 - Funk.Shu - GROOVE SUHMOE         
B20 - Ciasco - Spring Water
B21 - MentPlus - D Freak Flip    
B22 - NELAC - Trippin’         
B23 - mellowmnd - Futura Session    
B24 - Rikinish - Lemonade