The Useless Lesson (Palace of Light)
Prod: Dorothy Cross
Art(e): Tyler Boley
The Force Closed Our Eyes (5:38)
Declining Need Of More (13:55)
Music That Conceives Itself As Music (3:48)
Trio (Sentimental music) (5:25)
Long After Dowland (16:20)
- Declension Of Need (7:26)
- Leo Abrahams – guitar (6)
- Anode – field recordings (2)
- Dwight Ashley – (4)
It is always difficult to review an ambient album. There are very few musical constructions to point at for reference, hence most articles I’ve read fall somewhere along the lines of a wine review, describing color, texture, aroma and flavor notes. Also there is an inclination to compare to other works, Eno, Namlook, et al., and that, while it can be effective to reach the genre lovers, a new listener of ambient can be dumbfounded or even deterred from exploring these works. So, in that spirit I shall try to review the album and for the casual hardcore ambient fan, I shall wrap it up with some comparisons to booth.
(Note: for a briefer description of the album jump the next seven paragraphs.)
The opener is a oscillating string arrangement, with bright notes and slightly uplifting. A few drops of piano here and there sort of gives it a few steps to hold on to, but pretty much the track keeps moving from one side to the other holding chords at different intervals. It might be a low key intro to a quiet drama movie, it feels tense somehow.
Failing Need Of More, is a bit more sophisticated, there are more acoustical elements that can be heard throughout the development of the track. Again, there is a cyclical quality to all the notes that conform the body of the music but now there are overlapping cycles with different timetables, which makes it sound richer. The feeling it evokes, especially while it nears the end, takes me to a cold rocky beach front, where the ever moving city is behind me, mixing its noises into a mutating hum, while the crisp gray sea expands forever in front of me; there are cars, and people around, but there is no discernible sound coming from them, they just add tones to the buzzing humanity around me. It is as if there is nothing more that I need to be there, there is no requirement for me to be happy, but to enjoy the moment, in its simplicity and grandiosity.
The strings return playfully in the third track, Music That Conceives Itself As Music, but now they come with fiends, percussions, and they want to play around with rhythm. Perhaps the least ambient track of the album, while being interesting, it hardly gets going anywhere before it dies.
Anosognosia makes its debut with force, it wants you to treat it seriously. The deep percussion generates a tension and creates a vast container, these are not airy sounds, this has purpose, it has a frame, there is meaning for the agony. There are shrill voices that sing something not easily told, and they appear constantly, from all sides, sometimes feeling so desperate that they bounce of the walls, the walls of that deep percussion has made to encase all of this. Half way through there is an indication that there may be a solace to those cries, they seem to implore now, to beg, but the walls are building themselves again, slowly but surely, but now they want to present themselves not as captors but as companions, they are not really there.
The fourth track is as its title suggests, Sentimental Music. The strings play a melody and create a pad as background for it. It is mainly melancholic and is interrupted continuously as if to let the newly formed idea to sink in. Nearing its end, a booming force begins to appear and the sentimentality gives way to passion.
Long hallways and perhaps a total immersion observatory are in store for whoever listens to Long After Dowland. Completely atmospheric, its best suited for pondering hard ontological conundrums.
A church bell tolls behind a hill while you walk on a misty green meadow, perhaps some inspiration will arrive to help you overcome some of life’s obstacles. The music from Declension Of Need tells you, there is nothing more than being and whatever else is just superfluous, enjoy the moment.
OK, so enough corniness. Now, first advice, don’t read whatever the author has to say about this record. It’s a lesson alright, but a lesson to not over-conceptualize your music. Yes, as Leimer says, the album is a study in cyclical construction and deconstruction of musical cannon, and therein lies the album’s strong and weak points altogether.
Redundancy and looping has always been a part of ambient music, but it can be boring as it certainly gets to be at some parts of this album, especially at its start and its finish. Steve Reich did it masterfully thirty years ago, thank you very much, so the attempt to do something similar in the third track comes way short. The played out notes sound more elegant coming from Eno, and I would rather listen to Gorecki for string atmospheres; wich leads me to note that the strings here are desperately misused and I feel tempted to say that perhaps it would have been better to forgo the use of conventional instrumentation and just rest on synthetic pads as in the most relevant tracks 2 and 6.
The sampling could have been better and the percussions seem too conventional somehow. Again, perhaps it wasn’t the intention of the author to create another ambient album, it may as well be the musical musings tat Leimer want them to be, but it feels conventional in the end. It’s not a bad record I should say, but hailing it as something it’s not is counterproductive in any case.