On his 2016 EP i think you think too much of me, singer/songwriter/producer EDEN struck a rare balance of ingenuity and intuition. With his full-length follow-up vertigo, the Dublin-based artist takes an even more instinct-driven approach to his music, a process he perceives as a form of exploration. “Even when I’m writing, I don’t feel like I’m actually creating anything,” says the 21-year-old musician otherwise known as Jonathon Ng. “It’s more like I’m uncovering something that’s already there. Like how an archaeologist doesn’t create a fossil—they’re just finding it and uncovering it, and maybe rearranging it if it’s broken.”
With its unpredictable sound palette, fractured textures, and volatile mood, vertigo marks a purposeful departure from the exacting sound design of i think you think too much of me (a Billboard 200-charting release featuring the Lorde-supported lead single “sex”). “With this album, I was chasing that feeling I had when I first started making music—that weird thing where sometimes you’re not quite sure why an element in the song is expressing itself in a particular way, but it just feels right and you go with it,” says Ng. “I decided not to think about things like having a massive pop chorus everyone could sing along to; I just tried to let the songs breathe and to do whatever the music called for right at that moment.”
Working entirely on his own, recording mostly in Dublin and New York, Ng also shed all traces of perfectionism in his artistry. “I definitely took a step back from overdoing everything,” he says. “I really embraced not trying to cover up the blemishes by adding like five more layers of a certain guitar sound or synth sound. Even on the biggest-sounding songs, there’s maybe half as many tracks as things I’ve done in the past.”
Despite that relative simplicity, vertigo proves deeply complex in form and feeling. To that end, its title reflects not only what Ng calls “a very tumultuous period of my life, where everything around me was changing so fast”—but the very experience of absorbing the album. Endlessly jarring but powerfully hypnotic, arranged in a willfully cryptic sequence, vertigo unfolds with a chaotic intensity that’s ineffably captivating. The album continually darts between genres, handling dance beats and folk riffs with equal elegance, all while sustaining an urgency that makes its quietest moments just as unsettling as any wall-of-sound dissonance.
From track to track, vertigo shows the strange magic that can only come from true spontaneity. Created through a collage-like method that found EDEN assembling song fragments he’d begun collecting on tour, “start//end” fuses its seemingly disparate elements—cinematic strings, hard-hitting beats, falsetto vocals, spacey synth tones—into a sprawling meditation on desperation and hope. On “crash,” meanwhile, he sets a barrage of brilliantly freestyled lyrics (“the world bends around you/and living through cracked screens/we fold down to what we want”) to intricate guitar patterns improvised on a 1940s acoustic borrowed from the host at his Brooklyn Airbnb.
One of the album’s most purely melodic tracks, “gold” merges its jagged synth lines with a serendipitously composed guitar riff. “I was a showing my friend a guitar and he tuned it to this weird tuning that I don’t even understand,” Ng recalls. “One day I picked up the same guitar and it was still in that tuning, and the first thing I played ended up becoming the riff to that song.” And with “float,” vertigo delivers a darkly charged dance track whose rhythmic samples of shattering glass and ambulance sirens heighten its haunting effect. (Also sampled on “float”: Ng’s mother’s voice in the midst of an intimate conversation, accidentally recorded on a family car trip to his grandmother’s house.)
Throughout vertigo, EDEN’s shapeshifting vocals capture every nuance of his lyrical outpouring, revealing a raw-nerve vulnerability that manifests as its own form of power. “I always find that I can sing about things that I would never be able to talk about,” Ng says. “So it was cathartic to get all that out of me, although now it’s kind of horrifying to think that people are going to be able to hear it.”
Even in its most frenetic moments, vertigo maintains a sonic gracefulness closely tied to Ng’s lifelong devotion to music. Growing up in Dublin, he learned to play violin at age seven at the urging of his parents and—through that classical training—discovered a natural musicality that he soon applied to piano and guitar. “My two goals in life were to be an astronaut or a musician, and somehow being a musician seemed like less of a longshot,” he says. After playing in several bands in his early teens, he began experimenting with production and releasing his self-produced electronic music under the name The Eden Project. As his sound evolved and took on a more vocal-centric aesthetic, Ng rechristened himself as EDEN, made his debut with 2015’s End Credits, and—despite making zero effort to promote it—soon found the EP gaining major attention and prompting him to sell out his first tour of both Europe and North America. With i think you think too much of me arriving in August 2016 (and reaching #1 on the iTunes Alternative Charts), “sex” landed on a “Songs You Need In Your Life” list from BuzzFeed and earned more than 2.5 million listens across platforms within just a few weeks of its release.
Noting that “the album is not a coming of age story, but it caused one,” Ng considers vertigo to be both a creative and emotional milestone in his work as EDEN. “I’m still confused about a lot of things, but it feels like a halfway point in untangling all the weirdness and recognizing that not everything has to make sense,” he says in discussing the album’s emotional thread. “If you can let things be and stop overthinking everything, you can feel infinitely better—which goes back to the whole philosophy I had in writing this thing. I enjoyed myself way more and cared way less about trying to make everything come out a specific way, and it’s just been so much better.”