London weirdo-pop singer Organ Tapes sounds like the future

Published January 4, 2018

On his latest record as Organ Tapes, London producer and singer Tim Zha’s tender voice takes center stage. His ballads, infused with AutoTune-smeared dancehall and R&B melodies that recall other young Brits like Palmistry and Uli K, display remarkable vulnerability without compromising his commitment to ambiguity and distance. “Obviously there’s specificity in the songs, but to the listener, I don’t want them to have any particular specificity to what they’re hearing,” he explained over Skype last month. The title for his new album, Into One Name, is taken from a poem by Spanish Nobel Prize winner Juan Ramón Jiménez, and, much like the pure poetry that Jiménez was praised for, avoids conveying explicit narrative.

Zha’s suspicion of concrete identity began during his childhood, when he attended an English speaking school in Shanghai. “I’m mixed so on some level I was always trying to be like, ‘I’m local, I’m from Shanghai,’ which no one else at an English school is. But at the same time I was like, ‘I’m British.’ Identity operates differently in different contexts so it’s not like you’re being fake by being different in different places,” he explains. When it comes to the process of making music Zha maintains a rigid approach. “I’m quite a control freak so I’m not gonna go out and solicit people’s input because I’ll just end up being like, ‘No, I have to do it my way.’” Indeed, Into One Name only has two features, both with artists he’d worked with before (vocalist Malibu and producer Yayoyanoh). Its life began with opening track “Rust,” which Zha recorded after feeling compelled to create something his own. “I made that song at a time when I was doing a lot of collaborations and I still do that but sometimes if I’m doing a lot of collaborations I’ll be like, I need to make my own music.”

Throughout Into One Name, Zha—who cites musique concrete as an influence—deploys a dense assemblage of opaque sounds to convey the modern world’s endless juxtapositions. Perhaps the most inspired example comes on the second track “Di Qiu,” wherein his production simultaneously evokes inner city violence and the tranquility of a cathedral. Yet, although it’s an intellectually stimulating listen, Into One Name is not a difficult one. Zha is keen to describe his music as pop, explaining, “It’s not straightforward pop, but structurally it’s pretty much pop, and I’m very focused on melody.” He ascribes this to his listening habits, citing Afrobeats, rap and R&B as “the vast majority of what I listen to,” and Jamaican dancehall artist Alkaline as one of his favorite vocalists. “What he can do with his voice is crazy,” he gushes. 

The album’s familiar-sounding yet blurry lyrics expose language as a suspect tool of communication, and complicate simple pop narratives of love and lust. “We want gratification in an easy way, you’re kind of conditioned to want certain needs met, so you don’t want to acknowledge the nature of human relations, which is something far more complicated and difficult,” Zha points out. “[Into One Name] is about my relation to language and love, this kind of angst that comes from an impulsive kind of yearning towards dissolution of self. Desire itself is a symptom of that, so it’s kind of against action, against desire, to reject this idea of a solution and re-relate to language.” Zha’s philosophical meditations never preclude his music from being enjoyed on a surface level too, as truly infectious modern pop songs. “I don’t really make music to consciously impart things, they just sort of come out and I guess the critical aspect comes later,” he concludes.