Listening to Galen Tipton can feel like watching a mad scientist at work. Over a number of different projects, the Ohio producer has tossed ideas at the wall with a zany abandon: Last year they released an album specifically meant to be played directly out of your phone speakers and into your mouth, while projects like digifae and recovery girl have dealt in varying strains of whimsical, speaker-busting hyperpop. Though their other monikers have allowed Tipton to push and prod at song-based production, their solo work is where their tinkerer’s sensibility goes to its wildest places. Each mixture sounds like it could combust into a big, multicolored cloud at any moment.
Recently, Tipton’s bleeding-edge laptop jams have found an audience on TikTok, particularly as they’ve narrowed in on a new style they refer to as “brain scratch.” Taking cues from ASMR, Tipton coats the listener’s ears in microscopic electronic particles that sparkle like slime suffused with iridescent beads, their largely improvised chords and melodies acting secondarily to the constant rush of squelching synthesis underneath. A hypercute take on avant-garde synth music, Tipton’s pieces are an appropriately bite-sized accompaniment to videos pining after the sweet taste of frosted bouncy balls. After introducing this mode in raw blocks of tickling noise on last year’s nymph tones EP, brain scratch arrives as Tipton’s full-length investigation into the sound, using a more structured approach to see just how far the putty will stretch.
No matter how dissonant the music gets, one of Tipton’s most consistently delightful tricks is spinning unwieldy chaos into sumptuous shapes. The ribbiting voice that opens “brain scratch 01: the scavengers hymnal” is constantly ballooning out into notes that won’t quite stay in key, yet Tipton is able to create their own skewed tonal logic. “brain scratch 07: grove of the green knight (beta scale)” balances the almost dubsteppy bass throbbing through its core with a featherlight piano melody, cultivating a strange sense of calm on a track that should be anything but. brain scratch constantly floats in this state between relaxation and stimulation, its heightened sensory overload delivered with a cozy warmth.
Though much of brain scratch follows the cadence of a rainstick trickling in eight directions at once, occasionally Tipton offers something almost approaching a song. The standout “brain scratch 09: playground myths” swells from its fizzy intro into a racing parade of drums complete with a flailing brass section, hitting a sugary stride reminiscent of ’90s Shibuya-kei. But for the most part, the focus rests on Tipton’s dense instrumental textures and bright, childlike imagery. “brain scratch 16: thawing flowers” bursts to life with flutes that flutter softly as if settling atop bright green lily pads, while “brain scratch 4.5: bootlegged elixirs” plays like the soundtrack to a bubble bath slowly flooding an entire house.
After the heavy digital processing of the first three songs, the shorter interludes “brain scratch 15.5: burnt out candles” and “brain scratch 2.5: folk songs for the creepy crawlies” each introduce an earthy, tactile feel—the former with a warm, chalky layer of surface noise, the latter with a gentle mix of pirouetting percussion and cooing kazoos. Though these tracks would be dizzying by any other artist’s metrics, the effect they provide here is a grounding one. Tipton brings enough peaks, valleys, and glimmers of melody to hint at the musical possibilities of this sound, but brain scratch is still an overflowing teacup of a record: music made for a swooning, adventurous date with your headphones.