It's like this, y'see. There are times when the mind needs to have a little breathing space, a little time away from the hellish dystopia we've allowed the building of in our collective name.
The annals of laid back, ambient music are brimming with acolytes of the genre. Harold
Budd, Brian Eno, and Slipknot are all shining examples of how to induce
peace and calm to the soul of the listener. (Did you spot the deliberate
mistake? Well done, young Spongee…of course, Brian Eno is a leading exponent
of the Psycho-Rastabilly Stomp movement.) Whilst Chez Lawton does, indeed,
often find its denizens getting right down with their bad selves with all
manner of decibel-fests, its hallowed halls can also be found to be at least
glancing in the direction of the theta level, if not ever actually getting
there, with the likes of the aforementioned Budd,
Hakon, Esmerine, and others.
Don't get me wrong. As David Gates found out too late, man cannot live by
Bread alone and too much ambience (or anything else, for that matter...apart
from custard rubs) can be a bad thing. But, once in a while, the id needs to
be soothed, smoothed, and schmoozed away from anything with a definite 4/4
There's an art to art. Any fool (apart from Tracey Emin) knows that. Similarly, there's an art to producing ambient, avant garde music that doesn't sound like arbitrary, knob-twiddling, "I've-got-some-sequencing-software-and-I'm going to-use-it" nonsense. I've long since reviewed and spewed after listening to the musically monosyllabic Crossing Casco Bay by Robert Poss and the largely lacklustre sampler-a-go-go Nauru by Hawaiian warbler Coppe.
Lots of "avant", but a little short on "garde", methinks.
Currently filling my head (through headphones, I might add...this isn't like
the voices thing again, although I'm sure that Tom Petty's favourite plectrum
still speaks to me over breakfast...mutterings of revolution, uprising, and
sprouts in their jackets) is Mercury, a promo album by DAC Crowell
and Kurt Doles – and extraordinary stuff it is, too.
Just shy of nine and a half minutes, the opening (and, verily) title track
does cut along the bleepy, ring-modulator path used by many an aspiring ambientist,
but in this case there is a definite sense of purpose and form. Mercury the
metal or Mercury the unfeasibly close companion of our own Sun? It matters
not. Layers of reverb (the essential tool of the soundscapist, in my view)
on chiming synths, the occasional thunderous boom of a solitary piece of percussion
and a huge feeling of space (ah...there's a clue) allow this to drift like
some abandoned interstellar probe through the universe of the mind.
See how flowery this sort of thing makes me write? Just a moment...I need
to find some hemp trousers, construct a small pyramid and get me chakras aligned
before I continue. I can't work with wonky charkas.
Track two, From A Window is just beautiful – not in some abstract way...it
truly is a slice of Nirvana (that's the Hindu paradise, as opposed to the Seattle
rock-meisters...not even in Cobain's most spaced out moments could he have
been so mellow as this). With an underlying string synth drone, Crowell and
Doles daub strokes of harp arpeggios, piano, a little guitar here and there.
Even at getting on towards fifteen and a half minutes, this is over far too
quickly. Breathtakingly gorgeous, this begs to be put on repeat. I can't be
too lavish in my praise for this track.
Kembali is the third track here. Shadows of Arabia, spliced with visions of some desolate, post-apocalypse landscape. Synths moan like the breeze through a bomb-site and chimes toll portentously across and through the mix. Very uneasy, putting me in mind of one or two tracks from Set Fire To Flames' Telegraphs
In Negative/Mouths Trapped In Static. Darkly gorgeous.
St James Gate, the fourth on the disc, is nigh on seventeen and a half minutes long and rather marvellous it is, too. This wouldn't have sounded out of place on the Blade Runner soundtrack or implanted into some David Lynch-esque nightmare. Veneer upon veneer of subtle, whispering sonic textures do their best to creep into the listener's brain, ebbing and flowing like a Winter tide in slow motion.
Track five, Red State Transmission is, perhaps, the closest to mainstream that Crowell and Doles ever get. With what could be a guitar or a sample of a guitar, they produce a persistent, throbbing underpinning rhythm under a stab/drone-chorded keyboard, sampled radio announcements and (hello?) percussion. Odd, really. The closer this pair get towards commercially accepted material, the less I like the result. Don't misunderstand me, I don't dislike this track, but it's just not as appealing to me as the more abstract material.
The closing cut, Where All Roads End, is in the same shimmering league as From A Window. A simple four or five chord piano sequence floating over a layer of omni-present organ drone, a synth solo/melody hovering yet higher above the mix, with either white noise or the sound of the sea etched gently into the soundscape. Quite, quite wondrous.
If you, gentle Spongee, have the chance to lay your hands on Mercury, then I advise you to seize that chance with both of your hairy mitts (you too, guys). This deserves to be played and played, which is the case Chez Lawton presently. Crowell and Doles have proved here that ambient music can have a soul, can have some imagination and can communicate with the listener.
Robert Poss, please take note.