Scent and soundJoshua Minsoo Kimon December 22, 2022 at 7:27 pm

Pairing perfumes with albums creates a more full-bodied experience. Credit: Micco Caporale

It’s been seven years since my group of intrepid friends decided to explore the world of perfumes. “If you take five minutes to research them,” my friend Sam explained, “you’ll find that they’re way more interesting and complex than you ever realized.” He was right, and before long, I bought a handful of perfume samples online, purchased a book to help guide my understanding of the art form, and regularly visited department stores to smell as much as possible. My curiosity couldn’t be sated, and just as I’d spent most of my life searching for life-changing music, I would be on a similar unending journey to discover fragrances I could cherish forever.

A meaningful facet of perfumes is that they interact with your skin chemistry, which means they can smell different from person to person. Thinking about this has been hugely influential to how I approach all art and art criticism, as I now recognize how there is an infinitude to what any work can be and mean. That’s been especially obvious as I’ve started doing perfume-album pairings, which involves finding a perfume to wear as I listen to an album on repeat. Each time I do so, I learn something new about the music that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. It makes sense on a favorite basic level: I’m approaching both works with more intention and involving more of my senses for a more full-bodied experience. Importantly, this practice has helped keep my love for perfume and music alive. To give a glimpse into what I do daily, find ten of my favorite perfumes of 2022 below, each paired with an album I loved hearing while wearing them.

Credit: Courtesy the artist

10. Zoologist’s Cow and Amane Uyama, Mumuto

Zoologist’s entire shtick is naming perfumes after a different animal, and Cow is one of the more playful creations they’ve had. Perfumer Nathalie Feisthauer ensures that it mostly smells like a glass of cold milk, but there’s a candy apple note here that recalls kids’ shampoos. It’s a curious mix, but Cow still reads as sweet, powdery, and refreshing throughout its lifespan. Given how shamelessly synthetic it is, I’ve had a blast wearing Cow during listens of Amane Uyama’s Mumuto (self-released), a charming pop album indebted to the late Sophie’s erratic productions. These songs are silly and spacious, led by Uyama’s soft vocals to ensure lightheartedness despite eruptions of elastic synths and industrial thwacks. Together, Cow and Mumuto remind you that outré art can be both bewildering and fun.

Credit: Courtesy the artist

9. Papillon’s Hera and Jürg Frey, lieues d’ombres

Papillon’s Hera is the most classic perfume on this list, delivering a radiant blend of orris, narcissus, jasmine, and heliotrope. It’s powdery and creamy and most of all regal, befitting the most classic of ballrooms. It makes no effort to be flashy about its extravagance, and its decorum and high quality are obvious in more subtle ways: its pillowy soft atmosphere is graceful, and its smoothness is seductive. Jürg Frey’s lieues d’ombres (elsewhere) features solo piano works that the Swiss composer made between 1984 and 2018, and they’re performed by Reinier van Houdt here with the most delicate touch. Listening to this music isn’t just calming and meditative—it forces one to trace the contours of every single note and chord, their interactions with each other, and the silence that accompanies them. This is the sort of record that helps one garner an appreciation for sound at its rudimentary level, and when I hear it alongside Hera, it feels like I’m rediscovering the beauty of white florals all over again.

Credit: Courtesy the artist

8. Areej Le Doré’s Civet de Nuit and Cash Cobain and Chow Lee, 2 Slizzy 2 Sexy (deluxe edition)

Sometimes the most exciting thing you can do is hear an album that feels absolutely incompatible with a perfume you’re wearing. This year, my favorite such dissonance came from combining two masterful collaborations: Areej Le Doré’s Civet de Nuit, a refined, animalic fragrance from Russian Adam and Sultan Pasha, and the deluxe edition of 2 Slizzy 2 Sexy (Neva Slippin/MHPG Sound/CashCobain Inc.), an outrageous sex-romp party album from New York rappers Cash Cobain and Chow Lee. For how seemingly at odds these two works are, there is something that feels right: Civet de Nuit has a surprising chocolate note that adds sweetness without overpowering its resinous, musky base. 2 Slizzy 2 Sexy has similarly unexpected moments of playfulness, like the Plain White T’s sample on “Hate U Delilah” or the lay Spanish on “Hornitos.” Put on Civet de Nuit and 2 Slizzy 2 Sexy, and you’re guaranteed a good time or at least a laugh.

Credit: Courtesy the artist

7. Jorum’s Firewater and Artificial Brain, Artificial Brain

Both Jorum’s Firewater and Artificial Brain’s self-titled LP (Profound Lore) ferociously burst out the gate. The former, which is inspired by the Corryvreckan whirlpool off the west coast of Scotland, has the semblance of intense bonfire smoke meant to leave your head spinning. Its punishing opening makes way for something beautiful, though: a mix of benzoin and citrus to sweeten the BBQ-ish atmosphere. For how intense it begins, Firewater concludes with an earthy, dry down that’s mostly burnt woods: refined, warm, and cozy. Artificial Brain, a phenomenal album from one of the best American death metal bands today, feels like the sort of record that those uninterested in the genre could still enjoy. While it’s blistering and immense, there are moments of supreme beauty found in melodic passages and the incorporation of black metal riffage. More than anything, its unrelenting tenor can feel a lot like witnessing the sheer, hypnotic beauty of fire burning a landscape.

Credit: Courtesy the artist

6. Marissa Zappas’s Ching Shih and Steffi, The Red Hunter

Marissa Zappas’s most creative fragrance this year was Ching Shih, a beguiling shape-shifter inspired by the titular Chinese pirate. Its blend of myrrh and incense is grounded by a gunpowder note that tamps down any cloying sweetness one would find in a fragrance with such spice blends. The lack of a prominent amber note is key; Ching Shih is instead super moody, able to approximate the sharpness of a gunpowder’s sulfur ingredient without forgoing smoky comforts. Even when it settles, it maintains a faint air of dark, brooding mystique. I felt most at home wearing this alongside Steffi’s The Red Hunter (Candy Mountain). In a year with multiple killer electro LPs, Steffi’s is the most heady and austere, wielding futuristic synth pads and elastic beats with sly confidence. Her songs tumble and morph and glide, and their headstrong propulsions match Ching Shih’s addictive elusiveness.

Credit: Courtesy the artist

5. Pineward’s Hayride and Brakence, hypochondriac

Nicholas Nilsson’s Pineward Perfumes is one of the most thrilling independent ventures in the perfume world right now. His love of conifers belies the range of his many natural fragrances. (Those familiar with Slumberhouse’s cult classic Norne should take note.) Case in point: Hayride, a perfume he released in October that’s based around hay, bison grass, and sweetgrass. To be perfectly clear, this barnyard hay note—fecal qualities and all—brutally hit the nose right from the jump, but it becomes increasingly evocative as you feel it interact with everything else, which includes vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom, hot cocoa, and raisins, which seems responsible for the juiciness I sense. Still, Hayride is a perfume with great variability. During some wears, it’s slipshod in its blending while other times I’ve felt it become an irresistible tapestry of natural scents. You take the good with the bad, much like with Brakence’s striking third album hypochondriac (Columbia). Here, the Gen Z producer pulls from various beat scenes from the early 2010s, folds in traces of IDM, and shoots it through a contemporary midwest, emo lens. It’s brash and heartfelt and guaranteed to make you feel uneasy all before winning you over.

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4. Dusita’s La Rhapsodie Noire and Xênia França, Em Nome da Estrela

Pissara Umavijani looked to 1920s France for inspiration when making La Rhapsodie Noire, a stunning gourmand-ish fougère aiming for “timeless elegance.” There’s a prominent lavender note here, but it’s surrounded by a cloud of rum, coffee, and caramelized sugar. The sweetness is never one-dimensional because it’s accompanied by a heavy booziness, though any food associations one has shoot straight to images of the most royal banquets. Umavijani’s perfumes have always been adept at making you feel extraordinary in this way—like you deserve to feel spectacular—without opting for ostentatious pomp. La Rhapsodie Noire comes closest to crossing that line, but it remains lovingly introspective. When it eventually dries down into a soft vanilla, it carries the delight of the morning after a party, like you’re relishing the memories of what just happened, smiling in bed, covered in the softest blankets. Xênia França’s Em Nome da Estrela (self-released), a mesmerizing and artsy R&B album from Brazil, feels just as lavish. Like La Rhapsodie Noire, these tracks unravel slowly, and their glistening synths gild every inviting atmosphere. Put either of these on to feel like the best version of yourself.

Credit: Courtesy the artist

3. Di Ser’s Hikaru Daichi and Kabza De Small, KOA II Part 1

There’s an elegance and endearing clarity with which Di Ser and amapiano both operate. The former is a Japanese perfume house whose commitment to all-natural fragrances has made them a cult favorite; their works are typically unobtrusive and light. The latter is a strain of South African house music that features synthesized log-drum loops and soaring vocals. Like many other albums in the genre, Kabza De Small’s KOA II Part 1 (Piano Hub) is long (over two hours!) and filled to the brim with guest features, but these qualities aren’t meant to be intimidating. Instead, this is the sort of music whose warm atmospheres are so addictive that the music could last forever, be it for dancing or relaxing at home. Even the darker moments—a result of Bacardi house’s influence on the style—are mesmerizing instead of buzzkills. Think of Di Ser’s Hikaru Daichi as straddling a similar line between deep comfort and ephemerality. It begins with a spritz of bright lime before settling into a melange of pine, vetiver, and oakmoss. It’s earthy and lemony, containing wisps of frankincense to round everything out. Intermittently, it registers as medicinal. I’ve been spending time with these two during the colder months—their contemplative, impressionistic, and cozy nature makes me feel alive when faced with bracing winds.

Credit: Courtesy the artist

2. Slumberhouse’s Kiste 2022 and Les Rallizes Dénudés, ’77 Live (Remastered)

Slumberhouse’s Kiste has been an all-timer for me since I first wore it. After perfumer Josh Lobb recently hinted that it may never come back due to material scarcity, it’s returned with a tweaked formulation that’s better than the original. The perfume, which is Slumberhouse’s most accessible, is a gorgeous blend of boozy peach, musky leather, sweet honey, and raw tobacco, and they’re exquisitely blended to maintain a thick and sumptuous atmosphere for an impressively long time. It smells delicious without being obnoxiously fruit-forward, allowing woods, smoke, and patchouli to weave in and out seamlessly. My experience with wearing this recalled listening to the newly remastered version of ’77 Live (Temporal Drift), the landmark album from Japanese psych-rock band Les Rallizes Dénudés. The recording is shockingly clear, making it easier to appreciate this noise-rock classic: the scuzzy guitars and blown-out bass are still delightfully raucous, but you get a larger appreciation for the pop inclinations that underlined all their works. These are masterful highlights from two uncompromising artists.

Credit: Courtesy the artist

1. Agar Aura’s Malinau and Feli Colina, El Valle Encantado

The perfume I wore most this year was Agar Aura’s Malinau, a pepper-forward “agarwood soliflore” whose materials were sourced from Borneo, an island in the Malay Archipelago. Perfumer Taha Syed captures both the cinnamon and vanilla notes that arise when extracting oil from this agarwood, and the perfume aptly wavers between different modes: one that’s a blast of cinnamon and one that’s more subdued and creamy, allowing hints of berry and vanilla to dot the woodiness. It’s supremely wearable compared to most ouds of this sort, and its warm spiciness gives it a homey, earthy feel akin to Feli Colina’s El Valle Encantado (Popart). With this third album, the Argentinian artist strives for a folk record that’s both ambitious and elemental. Most arresting is how the simplest of musical gestures—steady percussion, winding piano melodies, Colina’s breath—diffuse throughout each song, their beauty patiently unfolding measure by measure. Few albums or perfumes this year felt like I was witnessing something so far removed from artifice.


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