Travelogue 2017.08.20: Topographies of the Soul

Ambient music, when masterfully constructed and emotionally invested, has the power to cross inner oceans, map out the topographies of the soul, and expose the deep strata of memory. This introspective listening journey consists of a quartet of releases that do just that. Featuring the intricately woven and emotive soundscapes of Tapes and Topographies (Todd Gautreau), Bird Traps (Marcus Skinner), Wil Bolton, and James Murray.

Tapes and Topographies – Signal to Noise

While being a latecomer to the world of experimental electronic music actually has quite a few upsides from a listening perspective, there is a certain guilt that comes with the territory when one “discovers” an artist who has been doing heavy lifting in the field for years. Such is the case with Dallas, Texas-based musician Todd Gautreau whose discography spans from the late 1990’s to current with projects such as Tear Ceremony, Sonogram, and Crushed Stars. What caught my ear was his more recent and exquisitely understated ambient project Tapes and Topographies which debuted in 2014 and has just seen the release of a third full length album entitled Signal to Noise. Awash in gauzy layers of melancholic drone and ornamented with wistful melodies, fine spun textures, and delicate field recordings, it is a beautiful immersion of sound and suspension of time that evokes warm nostalgia, tender emotion, and deep reflection. While you will be tempted linger here, be sure to check out the earlier releases – last year’s Soft Decibels and the self-titled 2014 debut.

Signal to Noise is now available from Simulacra Records on CD & digital.


Bird Traps – The Rainbow Body

Generally speaking it seems that Marcus Skinner lets his music and the words of others do the talking when it comes his Bird Traps project, but the handful of verbal brush strokes he has offered are hard to improve upon in describing the music – “slow shimmering soundscapes”, “unfurling melancholic melodies, sun dappled and soft focus”, “circular minimalism”, “eyelid collapse”. All of these characteristics are abundantly present on his latest offering entitled “The Rainbow Body”. Plaintive melodies drawn in long, slow arcs of the bow across the strings of Skinner’s instruments ebb and breathe in an ethereal, ephemeral space somewhere between the ambient and the cinematic. Each of the five pieces is deeply meditative in nature, haunted by a world-weary mournful air that seems to yearn for peace and resolution. While the title track and the near 20 minute “Colour Peace” are, temporally speaking, the most extensive of the lot, it is the gorgeous closing combination of “Ribbon Cane” and “Heavy Paddock” that are most likely to breach your emotional defenses (they certainly did mine).

The Rainbow Body is currently available as a digital only release.


Wil Bolton – Night Paths

Wil Bolton‘s discography reads like a Who’s Who of ambient labels with his work appearing in recent years by names that will be very familiar to readers here such as Fluid Audio, Home Normal, Eilean, Dronarivm, Dauw, Sound in Silence, and Audio Gourmet. Next month he can add Ukraine-based Hidden Vibes to the list. Those familiar with Bolton’s work will know that prolificacy does not equate to homogeneity; each album has its own distinct narrative and textural motifs. What distinguishes Night Paths from his most recent output is the prominence of the pure guitar tones and a shift away from the crepuscular and opaque in favor of glistening webs and lush, arpeggiated waves of looping sound. These seven tracks comprise a dreamy soundscape, a shimmering miasma of strings, amps, pedals, chorus, and reverb. Always beguiling and immersive, this is also Bolton at perhaps his most pastoral and soothing; a must-have for ambient guitar connoisseurs.

Night Paths will be available September 1st from Hidden Vibes in two CD editions – regular offered in a burgundy paper sleeve (100 copies) and deluxe housed in a purple cloth bound case with a metal shield (50 copies). A digital download option is also available.


James Murray – Floods Returned

While reworking earlier compositions is not uncommon in ambient music, on Floods Returned James Murray digs more deeply than most into the process of recreation as he revisits not just the songs, but the very raw material of what of became for him a defining trilogy of albums – ‘Floods‘ (2012), ‘The Land Bridge‘ (2013) and ‘Mount View‘ (2014).  Murray chose three pieces from each album to redevelop. The seeds and kernels of the original work remain but they bear fruit of a different kind as he weaves them into fresh, new narratives hinted at by new subtitles attached to each.

“…scattered throughout layers of the original twenty-one tracks are half-remembered melodies and fragments of what might have been. I knew the final released mixes could only be versions, as definitive as possible but ever fertile for reweighting, rebalancing and reimagining. Simply to recombine a few elements on many of these productions is to invite another composition to spontaneously unfurl, often equally faithful to the spirit of my intent as the original. ” – James Murray 

An alchemist with sound, space, and texture, Murray is both exceptionally nuanced and expressive as he renders these compelling new soundscapes with a whole new palette and fresh ears. Perhaps Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You really can go home again. You just have to be ready for it to feel different.

Floods Returned is currently available from Murray’s own Slowcraft label in a limited glass-mastered CD edition comes in a custom hand-assembled soft touch sleeve with professionally printed artwork. A digital download option is also available.