Artist: Assorted Potions
Album: Assorted Potions ii
Country: United States
Written by: Aaron Michael Kobes
Assorted Potions is something of an anomaly within the Dungeon Synth world, made all the more strange considering the main populace consists of cloaked alter egos that are shrouded in anonymity while being seemingly obsessed with the macabre, the fae or some combination of the two. While the person behind the project remains typically anonymous, what drives the creation of their music and views on traditional Dungeon Synth is anything but. So in celebration of Assorted Potion’s new release, Assorted Potions ii, I interviewed the creative force behind the project to learn more, before sitting down to write a review on the newest effort.
For those unfamiliar with either Assorted Potions or my previous review, done in brevity for Cave Dweller Music’s Spring Dungeon Synth Listening Guide, there is a distinctive sound cultivated by Assorted Potions, which I likened to a sleepy village in earlier Final Fantasy installments. As it turns out, that comparison was not far off, as the entity behind Assorted Potion states in response to a question of JRPG influences and more specifically, Final Fantasy:
“I would say that’s a large influence. I’ve always loved the final fantasy OST bits that I’ve heard over the years. Fun fact: I’ve only actually played 12, im a total JRPG noob. But those OSTs always made a big impression on me”.
Exemplifying this is the first track, Onward, which serves as a sort of blending of Final Fantasy soundtracks across the eras. It begins with a rather sedate plodding of percussive tracks, adding a little bit more every few measures, giving recall to booting up an old PC or waiting for your PlayStation to go through it’s standard openers. It is not long before Onward is joined and flush with layered sounds ranging from a muted horn and string-synth sections that are operating at slightly different pitches to create a feeling of depth, in addition to a remedy, flute-type synth that feels light in its execution. These elements create an opposition that fuels the dynamics of the track without crossing over into tension or being overbearing. What is interesting about Assorted Potion’s new track in, Onward, and the album on the whole, is the fact that it is counterintuitive to the artist itself, in that it exhibits a patience that the artist admittedly does not possess:
“I’ve played video games my whole life and have been aware of JRPGs, but I was strictly a game boy advance and GameCube kid in my youth…I wasn’t patient enough to sit through dense political plots and complicated skill trees! I’m still pretty impatient to be honest…”.
Perhaps, the impatience is more viewable from an extraneous angle, wherein one see the total run time of the album as being under fifteen minutes, however, that feeling does not translate in any of the tracks, as they are each well crafted and beautifully delivered in their own right.
The second track, Second Wind In Dire Circumstances, is a wildly efficient piece. It simultaneously acts as a bridge/transitional piece, yet remains wholly its own as a stand alone track. What is more, is how there is a blending of tempos between the beginning and later half of the track creating a contraction of time that seems to elongate the track past its one-minute seventeen-second runtime. Another aspect that makes this track work so well is the fact that it’s pretty catchy by Dungeon Synth standards, foregoing a foreboding atmosphere for a melodious ease taking that exists in tranquility, “…i’m always partial to something catchy. And the goal is to make music I want to hear…I knew I wanted something whimsical and I just used my DAW to try to capture that”. Though this may not seem like the prototypical Dungeon Synth drive instilled in the early 90’s, Assorted Potions doesn’t seem to be interested in making the typical, rather, what stands out to them instead, lauding contemporary Dungeon Synth masters as examples to follow:
“Fief and Quest Master inspired me to make music of my own. I had heard classic Dungeon Synth in the past but it never stuck out to me. But then I heard those two try to make something more cinematic than just dirty and kvlt, I felt way more connection to it”.
Delving further into the whimsical while becoming more cinematic by the track is, Guided by a Friendly Winged Beast. The track begins with a measured waltz-style rhythm that sets a swaying, swirling sort of pace. The introduction of chimed synths help contain the movement to one of restrained beauty rather than free-form paintings. Closing in on the halfway mark, there is an introduction of ethereal-sounding voices that gently begin to alter the course of the track towards the sedate momentarily, before an element of the fantastical comes into play by way of a dancing melody that inspires an urgency within the track yet holds it back from becoming frenetic. The final portion of the track is a combination of the preceding elements to effect a conclusion that is fantastical.
Wood Nymphs With Arrows for You, is the next track, and my favorite on the album. It is a blend of oddity and charm that creates an insularly comfortable and whimsy space to be lost within. Some of the synth selections are a-typical of the genre insofar as the are ripe with 90’s soft rock cheese, yet it is strangely entrancing in a juxtaposition sort of way that makes it entirely Assorted Potions. The track itself consists of a pinched synth that is the main focus sliding more than it plays, reminiscent of a pitch bender over top of plucked harp and plodding water-toned keys that sound like a mix of modulated keys and vibraphone. During the main melody there is an introduction of bass after a fashion, by way of thrummed strings and low end hits on the key-vibraphone, that opens up the sustain and vibrqtes in fullness. One of the better aspects of the track is the way in which there is a sense of movement, a pulling forward in their progression of melodic introduction and execution, that conjures up feelings of being drawn ever deeper into the woods by the titular Nymphs.
Downhill From Here, Back To Our Meadow, is the final track of the album, closing out strong. If Assorted Potions ii is an exercise in the cinematic, than Downhill would be the falling action or roll-credits scene with a closing out of an adventure coming home after a long journey/quest. The opening is resplendent in its grandiosity, a heralding of a more peaceful journey home with evil vanquished or some great deed or justice done. Sofenting just a touch, we are then transitioned into an equally soft, repetitive piano melody dripping in sentimentality, that also serves as a point of continuity for the track, a driving force or winding road that leads us home. Laid atop this, is another pinched, high-end synth that adds an enchantment element to the track helping the cohesion with the rest of the album. A little over half way through the track there is a breakdown for both synth and piano, that is near a retelling of the album in terms of modality, or keep g with the metaphor, a reminiscence of adventures past, and when they have run their course and the memory faded into just that, we are left again with our melodious piano steiking up ever so hesitantly at first, but gains moment as the measures and progress. The final moments of the piece are a solo venture of piano that eases off into an easy rest.
Cave Dweller Music: First things first, how did you come up with the name Assorted Poitions?
Assorted Potions: There’s a bazaar item in Final Fantasy 12 called assorted arrows. I thought potions sounded better for a musical project.
CDM: That actually leads into one of my questions, and something I kind of made note of in my earlier coverage, there is a very distinct impression of the JRPG in your sound, specifically final fantasy, would you say that is a large influence on your work?
AP: I would say that’s a large influence. I’ve always loved the final fantasy OST bits that I’ve heard over the years. Fun fact: I’ve only actually played 12, im a total JRPG noob. But those OSTs always made a big impression on me. I remember when the first trailer for FF13 came out and I believe the song “Blinded By Light” was featured. What an incredible work! Pokémon always inspired me musically as well, even from being a yungin!
CDM: That’s super interesting, I would have had you pegged for a lifelong fan, as there are elements in your work that span the breadth of the series (that I’ve played anyways), but it makes sense that you listen to the OST(still impressive that youcapture and recreate the mood without having played them however), are there any Dungeon
Synth artist that inspire you in a similar fashion?
AP: I’ve played video games my whole life and have been aware of JRPGs, but I was strictly a game boy advance and GameCube kid in my youth. Then Wii and then finally PS3, but I think I gravitated more to action and platforming back then. I wasn’t patient enough to sit through dense political plots and complicated skill trees! I’m still pretty impatient to be honest haha, I don’t even game that consistently. Just bought Live A Live though, excited to bust that ting open. There are so many DS artist that inspire me. I have too many to count, but everyone I’ve interacted with online makes ncredible music. Limiting myself to 4 friends off the top of my head, obviously Deep Gnome is sensational, and I adore Levmyr and Aradia’s Kingdom and Chestnut Brown. I really love artists with strong melodic sensibilities! Outside of people I’ve personally interacted with, Fief and Quest Master inspired me to make music of my own. I had heard more Classic dungeon synth in the past but it never stuck out t To me But then when I heard those two try to make something more cinematic than just dirgy and kvlt, I felt way more connection to it I’’m pretty chatty hahaha if my answers are too long I’ll try to do a voice memo
CDM: No that’s absolutely fine! I love it! And it makes total sense to me, I can get going on Dungeon Synth,comics and Wheel of Time (my big passions) pretty easy and it’s hard for me to stop haha. I actually just bought the repress of Fief Il on vinyl today to round out that collection so ill be doing another complete listen through (one of my all time favorites, also check out Chaucerian myth if you haven’t already, beautiful stuff). You spoke of knowing the Dungeon Synth community, how did you happen into it? And was Assorted Potions the result of theassociation with the community, or we’re you already making music and found the community afterwords? I also agree with you on the strong melodic sensibilities, and while I do love a lot of classic artists, some more contemporary artists have really been blended sounds and pushing the genre in different direction a positive way in my opinion
AP: I like pop music and strong hooks and riffs, that doesn’t change for me with dungeon synth Chaucerian myth is so ambitious! I made music first, then made my Instagram account and shamelessly asked people to listen to my music hahaha. I think the first person I messaged was Jake who is behind Adult Arcade. He just made an amazing sludgy metal mastapeace.
CDM: Tell me about it I’ve played around with the idea of doing a review of the 3 1/2 hour Canterbury Tales, but I’m always intimidated. I’ll definitely have to check that out, I always have time for a sludge record
AP: That is quite the undertaking!
CDM: Do you think it is this breadth of musical interests and opposition of the underground nature that flavors your style beyond the riffs
and melody? Perhaps making you try or experiment with sound in a way other DS artists who like to stay in the underground scene wouldn’t?
AP: I don’t know if I’m experimenting different than too many other DS artists. I’m just even more hyperfocused on hooks and memorable motifs than someone who’s more concerned with atmosphere. I love all kinds of music, in fact I mostly use my social media to show people what I’m listening to, but I’m always partial to anything catchy. And the goal has always been make music that I want to hear I will say I did make the vanessa Carlton cover to separate gatekeepers from real ones. I have always been at odds with scene gatekeepers in any type of music gatekeepers in any type of music I’ve been into. I’ve been going to punk and hardcore and metal shows since I was a kid and I’ve never understood the high school- esque hierarchies and rules that people feel like they have to follow. I like what I like and everyone should be like that
CDM: Agreed, there should be no “guilty plasures” in music. Haha that is truly amazing, I actually really enjoyed that cover, admittedly at the time I was a
touch confused by the choice, but I loved the first album so I wanted to hear your take, and it fucking killed, knowing the story behind it makes it all the better
AP: I think that song is one of the best pop songs ever written so I wanted to take a stab at it. Vanessa has some deep cuts that sound like Tori Amos, really stellar stuff
CDM: Knowing your focus on hooks and motifs, does that mean you’re very intentional/deliberate in how you craft a sng, of do you play around until you organically come into it?
AP: Same reason I did the Sheryl Crow cover, it’s a beautiful song I wanted to tackle I will sit at the computer with an idea in my head and see where the process takes me I have to at least pick and instrument or two that I want to focus on for a song
CDM: So then, when you start to develop a track do you then begin the process towards an album, or is that a more trial and error process with tracks?
AP: I just do things track by track. The first album I think accidentally had a clearer “narrative arc” after I made the first two songs. Assorted Potions Il isn’t as narratively focused It’s still centered around a heroic journey, though! I also have a no b-sides policy. I don’t have any unfinished tracks. Either I scrap the entire thing after the first roadblock or I finish the song by any means necessary
CDM: Do you mind my asking how many scrapped songs you’ve gone
through roughly in your Assorted Potions venture?
AP: None hahahaha. I’ve finished every single song
CDM: That’s pretty impressive haha
AP: Anything I’ve scrapped was thrown away after 5 minutes of initially sitting down
CDM: Ok so it was more in the “trial and error” phase. What is your big goal for Assorted Potions?
AP: I want to go on tour. I’ve always loved being in bands but we were never organized enough to hit the road. I know no one does that in dungeon synth. Well, the Threadmage wants to! And put my music on vinyl! I’m a big collector myself
CDM: Those are some pretty awesome goals, I know some acts have some live shows, but I haven’t seen any tours yet that would be a real shot in the arm for the community in getting it some more visibility. With vinyl, have you considered trying to get g to get n a label to work toward that end, or are you strictly a DIY across the board?
AP: I would LOVE to work with a label on that! I have a horrible artistic eye so l’d love to have someone work on layouts and all that with me haha
CDM: And as a small backtrack, it iust clicked in my slow-moving brain (baby brain is real haha) in concerns with safekeeping, did you have any sort of negative response to the Vanessa Carlson or Sheryl crow release? Have you tried to solicit and submissions to labels?
AP: Not at all, everyone has recognized the real. I’ve reached out to a few bigger players but they never got back to me.
CDM: I’m sorry to hear that, I feel as if you have a unique enough sound that would warrant consideration at the least from a label, especially as a means of diversification. What is more you also have a pretty recognizable sound from the effects you use, essentially watermarking your works, and that’s what stands out, to me at least, especially consider in the abundance of acts in the game currently. Speaking of how did you develop your sound?
AP: I reached out a few months back, don’t even think the Deep Gnome split came out. I guess I could try again but I don’t want to knock on doors that aren’t open. Also I know those labels are crazy busy. Simple, I knew I wanted something whimsical and I just used the sounds in my DAW to try to capture that. I keep things streamlined and simple and it helps me work pretty fast hahaha
CDM: I’ve noticed the rapidity, you’ve been putting out a decent chunk of work in a relatively small time frame, does that mean that recording takes up a majority of your time?
AP: In terms of my free time? Sometimes it’s a decent amount, but I also have a full time job and friends and family to spend time with. And other passions too.
CDM: What are some of the other passions that help round you out?
AP: I love cooking, obviously listening to music too. Going out and being social when my friends are free/want to. Love dancing as well. I’m pretty social, I’m mostly semi anonymous for the sake of tradition
CDM: your friends and family know about Assorted Potion? I gotta say you’re the antithesis of expectations when it comes to expectations when it comes to DS artists and it’s pretty rad.
AP: Oh yeah all of my friends and family know about it. They’re supportive which I’m thankful for!
CDM: That’s awesome! I think I got enough for the article, just one more question that I like to asks artists, and it’s, what’s the biggest thing or one thing you want people to know about Assorted Potions or your music?
AP: I’Il keep that short and sweet: want everyone to know I’m thankful for their support, and also you can do it too! If you want to make music, just do it! Also we do not rock with fascists over here, let that be known as HELL
Be righteous by listening to and supporting Assorted Potions on Bandcamp: