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dné – Basic Living (Platoon)

dné, the ambient-electronic persona of Prague-based artist Ondřej Holý, returns with his highly anticipated second album, Basic Living. It’s a deeply personal and intricately crafted sound-work celebrating the overlooked, unappreciated beauty of everyday moments.

By focusing its attention on the present, the atmosphere of Basic Living provides a momentary relief from the interminable doom-scroll of bad news stories, pseudo life-hacks and celebrity virtue signalling. It’s a gentle hand on the shoulder, or a warm, soft gaze telling us ‘life’s actually ok’. dné is meticulous in his approach, however, intertwining organic beats, exquisite vintage synth pads and a diverse range of instruments, including classical elements and mid-west emo-inspired guitars. He transforms the differing emotional cues these spark into immersive experiences that cause us to pause, drawing us into a state of profound, suspended introspection.

Like gentle whispers on the breeze, dné’s music is all about the subtler wisdom that often eludes us. When creating his debut, These Semi Feelings, They Are Everywhere (2016, Majestic Casual) Holý was overwhelmed by the choice of sounds and possibilities to express his ideas, blocking his ability to move forward. He overcame this by imposing limitations on his own terms, writing music using only a simple piano and human hand clap. Simplicity is a theme he returns to more broadly on on Basic Living where instead of chasing grand narratives, he lets the quiet splendor found within life’s humble moments tell their stories. Unlike his previous release, though, dné experiments much more with the structure of his compositions’ colour, timbre and textures. This is notable on ‘Romantic Options’ whose snatched fragments of vocal samples intertwine with distressed piano and chamber strings with untamed grace. Through the RnB-infused vocals by Slovakian artist FVLCRVM in ‘Traps In My Feed’ and the raw purity of guitar tracks in ‘Illnesses Are Dumb’ and ‘Entertainment’ , dné bends ambient music’s core ‘rules’ into more interesting shapes.

Love, technology, and the internet serve as recurring themes throughout the album, but in a more abstract sense. dné’s compositions transcend traditional song structures, conjuring impressions or shifts in mood. The careful inclusion of subtle details, such as the ticking of a car indicator or the creak of an opening door in ‘Thanks for Getting Me Home,’ helps create a sense of place where these fleeting, intimate moments can be truly felt, if not entirely explained or understood. This essence is magnified on the title track, which emerges slowly out of TV static, before drifting into a dream-like state. Then, simple stick-like rhythms tussle with playful murmurings: “I can see the stars in my eyes when we talk.” There’s more wry cuteness on ‘Sunday Boost’ with its stop-start, pulsing synth and vocal beats. The track alludes to the opportune time for Tinder’s “boost” feature to cast its spell, and the ambiguous dance of digital entanglement that follows.

Closing track, ‘Illnesses Are Dumb’ articulates, for the first time, some of the implicit limitations that Holý lives with, but which don’t inform his musical choices. “I have muscular dystrophy, I’m currently happily living by myself but I am losing my self-sufficiency,” Holý says. “I’ve never made music about it before, it’s not interesting to me and making music has nothing to do with it, I simply do what my body allows me to do”.

Basic Living is a captivating stream of sounds, cleverly curated like relived memories. That said, at 21 minutes, it’s all too brief. We’d gladly spend longer in dné’s company, delving deeper to find more extraordinary things hidden beneath the surface of this fascinating work.

‘Basic Living’ is released on 19th June via Platoon.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.