Pocket Full of Dreams: The Quest for Melancholy Sunshine with Late Night Radio
The electro-soul genre, which dances freely on a tightrope between funky bass music and glitch-hop instrumentation, has been having a great year. Pretty Lights is officially back after a five year hiatus. Daily Bread dropped Invisible Cinema, which revitalized the glitch-hop scene across North America. But there’s one more surprise waiting around the corner, this time from Denver-based Late Night Radio. It’s called Pocket Full of Dreams, and it’s his most ambitious album to date.
But, what defines Pocket Full of Dreams’ musical ambition isn’t some experimental attempt to redefine the electro-soul genre through engineering gimmicks and complicated production. Instead, it’s an unapologetic return to form; a definitive love-letter to the golden age of soulful electronic dance music — one that expresses an intimate relationship with vinyl records and analogue sample culture.
“On Pocket Full of Dreams, I definitely went back to my bread and butter, which is essentially storytelling through records,” Alex Medellin, the creative mind behind Late Night Radio, said during an exclusive interview with MP3 MAG. “Every song on this album has at least three samples; some songs have seven to ten samples. But they all tell a story.”
I’m beyond excited to announce my new album, Pocket Full of Dreams. It’s 10 tracks featuring @michalmenert, @Poldoore, and @motifvmusic, coming out October 20th on @philosrecords. To celebrate, I’ll be hitting the road with @parkbreezy_ , Poldoore, Motifv, and @mikeythunder101 pic.twitter.com/ZF3MpTB5g1
— Late Night Radio (@l8nightradio) September 5, 2023
The story that Pocket Full of Dreams tells is one of relentless overcoming set firmly on the light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dark that tunnel becomes. It’s a darkness that Medellin knows all too well.
That’s because, two years ago, Medellin was depressed, mostly because he wasn’t sure the Late Night Radio project would survive in the post-pandemic world. It seemed like the electro-soul genre had largely dissolved into the background of electronic music, giving way to a new era of experimental bass and house music that reached new levels of popularity in both mainstream and festival culture.
“A couple years ago, I seriously questioned if the Late Night Radio project had peaked,” Medellin said. “I was thinking to myself ‘I’m 37 years old. Maybe it’s time to leave this behind and figure something else out.'” Fast forward to 2023, and Medellin is currently celebrating the biggest year of his entire career. Had he given up, who knows how much darker that tunnel might have become, how much further the light might have faded. This is what Pocket Full of Dreams is all about.
At its core, Pocket Full of Dreams is a musical exploration of the creative struggle; a coming-to-terms with the cyclical nature of inspiration and artistic success. “Some people don’t realize how mentally tough it is to make a living off of your own art,” Medellin said. “There’s lots of self-doubt that comes with that. Lots of highs and lows. I wish I could say my whole career has been an upward expansion, but that’s far from true.”
Regardless of how tough times became for Medellin and the Late Night Radio project, he was never willing to exchange his artistic vision for a trendy sound or a more ‘radio friendly’ design. Instead, he continued exploring production techniques that became increasingly outdated in the modern digital age: analog sampling and storytelling through vinyl records.
Much like the electro-soul genre, vinyl records have recently become “cool” again. In fact, vinyls are as popular as they’ve ever been — last year, for the first time in three decades, vinyls outsold CDs in number of units. But even in the early 2010s, when vinyls seemed to be going extinct, Medellin cherished them. So much so that his first official album, titled Vinyl Restoration Vol. 1 (released in 2012), was a tribute to the long-lost musical medium, years before vinyl started to pick up in popularity again.
But he didn’t stop there. Eleven years later, Medellin has released 10 Vinyl Restoration projects. The series is loaded with discrete gems and samples dating back to the 1950s, each with a special boom bap and old school hip-hop flair that jumps off the turntable everytime the needle drops. “Honestly, I consider myself a hip-hop producer more than anything,” Medellin said. “I just sneak enough electronic elements in my music to perform at a few festivals here and there.”
These days, the art of sampling has shifted drastically. “Crate digging,” a practice that involves scouring endless crates of vinyl records in search of the perfect sample and mining a few diamonds in the rough, is seemingly extinct apart from a few people who still hold an intimate relationship with the vinyl medium. Mostly, these fanatics exist in the world of hip-hop and R&B. The dubstep and bass communities, by and large, have moved on.
That’s not to say sampling doesn’t exist. Some might argue that sampling is actually more essential than ever in our digital music landscape. But the nature of these samples, and how they’re acquired, looks much different.
Samples are no longer tied exclusively to old records. Instead, digital services like Splice and Output allow producers to access virtually unlimited sounds and “samples,” both modern and ancient, from vast archives of musical ideas. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for artists to release their own “sample packs,” which include sounds they might define their particular sound and style. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but according to Medellin, some of the magic is lost here.
“There’s just something special about vinyl records. I romanticize records, to be completely honest — the smell of records, the way they feel in my hands. I love going into my favorite record store, shuffling through a thousand records to find one nugget of gold. That’s so much more rewarding to me than getting a sound instantly from a sample blog or platform.”
It makes sense then that the concept and title for Pocket Full of Dreams was born in this exact way — stumbling upon a forgotten deep-cut from Janis Ian’s 1975 album Between the Lines. The track, titled “Bright Lights and Promises,” features the opening lines “Bright lights and promises / A pocket full of dreams / That’s what they pay me to be.” It’s a sentiment that, in many ways, has defined Medellin’s creative journey throughout the past 15 years. “As an artist, I’ve always been told that success is ‘right around the corner;’ that my big moment is coming up so soon,” Medellin said. “But I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years, and it hasn’t happened yet. That’s what ‘a pocket full of dreams’ means to me.”
There were times when Medellin thought that moment would never happen. Sometimes, he still thinks that. But, no matter what, he keeps on making music and pushing forward. That’s what Pocket Full of Dreams is all about: acknowledging that, for better or for worse, a brighter future might be right around the corner. Or, perhaps more realistically, maybe not. But you’ll never find out if you give up.
All photography courtesy of Late Night Radio