Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ambienteer-- Ataraxia

The opening and title track "Ataraxia" by artist Ambienteer ascends from a quiet drone to an ethereal hum of sound that overwhelms and elevates the listener. A prominently displayed treble is beautifully underscored by ululating midlevel sounds and a subtle but beautiful basso reminiscent of African chants; together, the pieces float together to form and- re-form discords and resolutions. At over 11 minutes long, this first track sets a perfect tone for what's to come with the rest of the album: subtle charms and darkness that intermingles with lucidity. 

With a light rap of sound, the artist snaps the listener out of that floating reverie and into the second track, "Augment", which introduces light, jangling percussive elements and a slowly creeping movement that never goes into the directions that a listener might expect. "Shiftless" descends back down, submerging the audience in a murky array of thoughts. Although the track has few distinct elements, the piece feels unfathomable and pensive. 

In a phenomenal moment (my personal favorite), Ambienteer deftly moves his audience into an arrangement reminiscent of a cathedral hymn-- big, organ-like sounds plod steadily to collide with electronic bells and bring a shiver down the spine in "Reclamation." The artist suspends his sounds, allowing them to grow and assume their place, rather than pulling them away from the listener's perspective too quickly to be digested. 

Then, with only a slight pause, the album takes a noticeable shift: a mechanical windup sound brings in the aptly-titled track "Music Box". Thankfully, Ambienteer avoids parroting the shrillness of a true music box by interweaving the light chimes that one would expect with a propeller-like synth and the recurring rasp of the wind-up mechanism. 

"Barium Falling" marks a return to the drifting drones and uneasy resonance, and "Murmuris" continues where it leaves off, and pulls with it sorrowful, almost fugue-like chords punctuated by jarring, wintery field recordings and a persistent, eerie sound of wind.

The final piece, "En Coeur En Hiver", is a befitting and beautiful end to this richly dark album. It's uplifting and nostalgic, but its deep drones and static compete so that the listener is gently forced to stay grounded, neither sinking nor floating. Instead, the listener is acquainted with the sound of a heartbeat, and a sense of sleepy, begrudging renewal of alertness to the less ethereal world outside.

All in all: this album will make you want to pause, rewind, and re-listen to its subtle messages and exquisite moments. This is definitely another album that demands an in-depth listen; it's not for the pop-hearted or the easily bored, and it may make those in cold places wish to crawl back into bed. But for those who wish to have a love affair with a very lightly structured and richly paletted soundscape (and maybe bliss out to their music visualizers for a time), this offering is sure to more than satisfy. 

Available on Ambienteer's Website, name your own price. More sounds from Ambienteer are available on his personal site: .

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The First Review-- Ember Music, Vol. 1

(Caveat: one of the artists on this album is my partner. Not telling which, though.) 

This first release by nonprofit label Ember Music is the rare find among multi-artist compilations that plays like a cohesive album rather than the disjointed offerings of its individuals. From the pensive introduction ("Huntitled III" by musician Murat Esmer) to the dark, haunted coda by New Englander MobiusB, the listener is led seamlessly through tracks that manage to differ vastly from one to the next without sacrificing unity. The album plays not only as a whole, but as an intelligent and detailed statement. We are taken on a dark, occasionally gloomy, but always thoughtful tour through this collection.

Highlights from each track include:

Murat Esmer's expressive field recordings beckon the listener in with hypnotic footsteps and a pervasive piano.

Carl Sagan's Ghost continues where Esmer ends off by pulling the listener through a dreamy collection of watery synths and strings.

"Neigh" from Known Rebel picks up in tempo and mood, drawing a common thread while introducing rhythmic elements.

Sole vocalist Akisma manages to bring a strong, moody performance to an otherwise unvoiced album in "Comfortable Ignorance", marking a turnpoint in the narrative.

Kurt Lorenz continues the thread by combining a driving beat and intricately textured synth layers on "Filament".

Mr. Sandbags combines pulsing rhythmic elements with ambience in "Defect Pattern".

Saffron Slumber transitions away from any harshness by arranging a transcendent, floating composition of a rare timbre in "Glade" which somehow manages to remain unique while recalling the common elements of the album.

The track "Views from a Slow Moving Train" by Savaran advances the journey with an eerie, alienating resonance.

Nordmach regrounds the listener with soft harmonies and melancholy distortions of daily life in "Krista".

TraisKin expounds on the themes brought forth, maintaining an unsettled atmosphere and reintroducing considerable darkness in "Alice: Longitude 180".

Slaphappy Mortician helps the listener towards the inevitable denouement, descending into a deep bass in the track entitled (fittingly) "Nothing Left to Say."

MobiusB's "Ouraborus" aptly completes the album by combining dark synths and a bracing guitar, (and, delightfully, a tuba!).

All in all: the album is an exciting debut from its promising artists, and should not be overlooked. If you're in the mood for poppy and cheerful music, come back another day. But, if you like moody, ambient electronica that brilliantly displays evocative field recordings, this may be for you. 

Available on iTunes at $9.99, CD Baby for $6.99, or on Ember's Website for $6.99.