As a city dweller, there’s something special about an EP like ‘Test the Shallows’. Delirious and dance-worthy, Keelan Mak’s low, mumbling voice makes me want to saunter down the sidewalk and hang off the street lights, lurking around to meet some sort of mysterious lover. As you can probably assume, this is not my reality – but that’s what makes the work of bedroom producers so special. Real life will tell you that I’m an insomniac writing an album review at an ungodly hour, accompanied by a nice soundtrack and a candle. But Keelan Mak disguises all that, coating everything in the room in a hazy sound so that it feels like I’m the mysterious character I see in my head. Will I have to face the dreary, dirt-stained tile of the subway as I head to work tomorrow? Of course. But when I’m listening to ‘Test the Shallows’, I’m effortless, rolling around in my sheets as if the world is at my fingertips and nothing else could possibly matter. It’s a musical high that matches the fast-paced rush the city so often makes me feel, even in the moments that are particularly mundane.
‘Test the Shallows’ is smokey and sweet, careworn and carefree, taking a slow, woozy approach that radiates energy without being explosive. The entire EP carries an emotional storyline that goes from 0 to 100 in a matter of seconds, both lyrically and production-wise. It’s glamorous, but far from shallow – Keelan questions his sanity and confidence in a way that’s powerful and takes accountability for his choices. He insists on ‘Flicker’ that you don’t cry for him, even if he catches himself waiting around for validation on ‘Warm Blooded’. On ‘Daffodil’, he admits he’d rather live in his head and pretend, but questions why his lover could possibly be so cold. All of this is backed by Keelan’s killer star power – ‘Sleep Talker’ admits to emotional attachment in a way that’s assertive, owning the narrative in a mix of powerful declarations and twinkly, sparkly sounds.
There’s a kind of sleepy, sedated vibe that lingers on ‘Test the Shallows’ – all I wanted to do was lay around and feel beautiful, drowned out by floaty sounds that made me feel like my emotions and my impulses were the center of the universe. But it’s worth noting that pretty is not the same as plastic – Keelan Mak’s brand of pop is painfully self-aware. ‘Undecided’ in particular brought me back to consciousness and left me in deep thought as breathy harmonies unpacked the concept of “ignorance is bliss”. Living in an ever-changing city environment can leave you a little jaded and a little jolted, but perhaps I enjoyed this EP so much because it allowed me to be beautiful and vulnerable in my own tiny piece of the concrete jungle. I appreciate ‘Test the Shallows’ and its electro pop magic for exactly what it is – a whirlwind of throbbing beats, contemplative emotional turmoil, and the buzz of the city through the lense of a dreamy soundscape.