January 28, 2023

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Indie folk remixed in EDM? It works, thanks for Eric Anders, Mark O’Bitz and their collaborators

Eric Anders and Mark O’Bitz are a prolific indie folk/americana duo who have produced some of the most interesting and beautiful work the genre has seen in the past four years. With the harmonizing talent of Fleet Foxes and the like, but the post-punk core of Tom Waits, these two artists are well known to those of us at YEDM who follow such circles, but we never thought they would end up on YEDM would be seen. We should never underestimate the innovation of a good artist, and the newly remixed versions of their haunting 2020 album American Bardo feature Anders and O’Bitz as the latest artists to prove the point.

Now that we’re hearing them, American Bardo’s remixes, renamed Bardo Hauntings for the occasion and split in two, sound like they were done electronically all along. So much so that the original songs almost sound a bit minimal now. Quite often with folk and Americana works that have been rewritten or remixed into electronica or pop, there’s a moment of “hmm, that’s weird” in your head, followed by a yes or no vote. That’s not the case at all with Bardo Hauntings, and the reason these remixes turn out so well is definitely due to remixers Mike Butler and Steven Jess Borth II (CHLLNGR).

Bardo Hauntings I, The Butler Hauntings contains remixes of half of American Bardo created by recording engineer and producer Mike Butler. Aside from his engineering accomplishments on Phoebe Bridgers, Norah Jones, The Shins, and The Predenders (among countless others), Butler has long worked with Anders and O’Bitz. Thorough knowledge of an artist’s work certainly helps with a project like this, and Butler probably has the best knowledge of those artists besides the artists themselves. He self-produced and mixed American Bardo, along with every Anders/O’Bitz release since then, with the exception of 2021’s True September Songs, including the Bardo Hauntings EPs.

For EDM fans who are also familiar with the world of jazz, folk and ska, Steve Borth should already be a household name. Part of a musical dynasty started by his father, Steven Jess Borth I, Borth II had an early talent for music and was recognized as a saxophone prodigy by the age of 10. Borth has utilized his multi-instrumental talents in ensembles and ska bands around the world, but EDMers may know him better for his ska/reggae/soul/electronica crossover project CHLLLNGR. Fusing all of these genres with breaks, future bass, dubstep, house and techno, Borth’s CHLLLNGR project garnered quite a bit of attention in the EDM world in the early 2010s. His aptitude for such merging also made him the perfect choice for bardo hauntings.

The 12 remixes on American Bardo are split evenly between Butler and Borth to do the two Bardo Hauntings, but it seems the two artists picked whichever they wanted as the track order doesn’t follow the original LP. That way, each producer could tell their own story with the tracks they chose. Apparently Anders and O’Bitz gave them carte blanche.

The title “Bardo Hauntings” is based on the idea that remixes haunt the original songs. In this case, the original songs are American Bardo’s, so these remixes are “bardo spook”. As with ghosts, the original is present and absent at the same time

Butler flexed some compositional muscles that few other than his laundry list of famous clients have heard before. From the startling yet emotional industrial/ambient mix of the “Won’t Live It Down” remix to the heady, theatrical and largely analog remix of “Matterbloomlight” (btw this is now a third version of this achingly beautiful song) . ) to the minimal-hour mix of “Holding Will,” Butler incorporates a range of styles and genres without overdoing it. This is the key to such a fine sonic palette as in the original Anders and O’Bitz discography.

Borth’s remixes are both more down-to-earth and gushing than Butler’s approach. In most of the tracks he remixes, Borth keeps almost all of the original stems, including the instrumentals and general pop/rock structure, as more and more electronica creeps into the melodies as they and the EP progress. The first track “Haunting Abraham”, for example, starts out almost entirely acoustic and then grows in production complexity until Borth adds a subtly analog masked house beat. In the end, the track has a full complement of strings and cannot easily be identified as a pop or folk EDM track. Talk about delicate handling; It’s almost like we’re fooled into rave tracks on Borth’s EP, and each track is a surprise in how it’s going to unfold.

Butler and Borth had very different approaches to this remix project, but they both brought out the best of Anders and O’Bitz’s work and hopefully brought it to a whole new circle of fans. The idea that these are American Bardo electronic “hauntings” is brilliant, as The Bardo Hauntings not only harks back to the original album, but also to George Saunders’ 2017 Pulitzer-winning book, Lincoln In the Bardo based on the American Bardo. It’s an example of how great art makes great art and makes great art, and it can spread across media, generations, and genres. Now all that remains is to take full advantage of Bardo’s creation and let Butler and Borth remix each other’s remixes. In the meantime, a beautiful complete work is here for folk, literature, and EDM fans to enjoy The Hauntings.

Bardo Hauntings I and II are both available now and available to stream on Spotify or buy on Bandcamp. Check the links in this article to learn more about Mike Butler and Stebe Borth II (CHLLNGR).