Describing an ambient, post rock, or modern classical album as the “soundtrack to an imaginary film”, is typically an abstract reference that helps to define what to expect from the music. In the case of the new Oathless album, “Peripheral: Music For An Imaginary Film”, it is a declaration made in the title itself. The inevitable question is what kind of film?
The opening track, ‘I Thought I Saw Her in a Dream’, answers the question immediately as stark notes struck on the piano reverberate over ethereal synthesizers that swell underneath. This is not a cinematic blockbuster. This is the kind of film you watch on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The kind of film you know is likely to devastate and haunt you for days, but that you watch anyway. Just as the cover art implies, it is a film framed by grey skies, desolated beaches, cold oceans, and blustery winds; one in which the characters are moving through their lives like ghosts.
This sense is evoked even more powerfully in the second track, ‘Faded Memories’. You can easily picture a character staring out rain-beaded window or sitting on a bench looking out over the ebbing tide of a cold sea. The song is delicate, yet conveys an almost visceral sense of melancholy. The opening section of the album then ends with the first of three “intermissions” which leads into ‘Amidst the Fog He Lost Her’ and melancholy gives way to a palpable sense of loss.
It is at this point the album begins to demand more emotional resources from the listener. This is not music one listens to relax or escape. There are no uplifting melodies and there is not much in the way of sonic ear candy. It is very stark, even tense at times, as when the album moves into the next track, ‘The Watcher Awakens’. It is a cacophonous piece which opens with a very jarring bit of percussion. However, there is some reprieve after the second “intermission”, as the album offers a pleasing stretch of melancholic ambient pieces in the form of ‘The Calm After the Storm’, ‘Skybird’, and ‘Intermission III: Finding Max’.
The concluding section of the album is marked by a brief return to tension and a sense of foreboding with ‘Only When the Night Comes Will There Be Light’, but that is followed by what I would consider the showpiece of the album – the long and peaceful ‘Coda, For the End of Days’, which is quite beautiful and does convey some sense of resolution, thus ending things on a satisfying note.
“Peripheral: Music for an Imaginary Film” challenges as much as it entertains. At times it creates a great deal of tension without release or veers into experimental musical territory that will not be to everyone’s taste, but it is a very respectable effort with some lovely high points. And, if anyone ever does make an actual film to go with this music, make sure you have box of tissues nearby when you watch it. You will probably need them.
Favorite tracks: ‘Faded Memories’, ‘Skybird’, ‘Coda, For the End of Days’.