Album of the Day: Slow Attack Ensemble, “Soundscapes for the Emotional​-​Type Listener”
By Philip Sherburne · October 26, 2016

You’d think ambient music would be the last style ever to break the fourth wall. Ambient, after all, is about dissolving into the moment, about being enveloped by pure atmosphere. Occasionally, an artist will nudge and wink at the self-seriousness of the whole phenomenon, even as they indulge in its vaporous fullness. That was certainly Stars of the Lid’s approach, beginning with the self-referential (and mildly self-deprecating) title of 2001’s The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid; on 2007’s Stars of the Lid and Their Refinement of the Decline, as they sunk even more deeply into gauzily narcotic arrangements for guitars, strings, and endless reverb, their titles catapulted into the full-on absurd: “Another Ballad for Heavy Lids,” “The Mouthchew,” “December Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface.”

Slow Attack Ensemble’s Soundscapes for the Emotional-Type Listener—the work of a Canadian musician named Chuck Blazevic—bears a similar tongue-in-cheek approach. Perhaps not coincidentally, Blazevic’s earlier work under the Dreamsploitation alias sounded quite a bit like Stars of the Lid. The In-Between Years: 1959-1963 purported to capture “the elegiac dimensions” of American popular music in the years between ’50s and ’60s rock, though in practice, that goal mostly translates to endless echo and fathomless yearning. (If you’ve heard any of those songs that have been slowed 800 percent that have made their way around the internet, Dreamsploitation also sounds a lot like those.)

His new album also tackles a specific style and a specific era, but this time, it actually sounds like its subject. In an email, Blazevic told me that the album is “heavily inspired by the more minimal and organic elements of 1980s Japanese and Mediterranean ambient-electronic music.” Mixing piano, electric guitar, synthesizer, and copious amounts of reverb, the album could easily be mistaken for the real thing. Like the best ambient music, it fades unobtrusively into the background, but there’s just enough there to hold your attention, if you should feel so inclined—what Brian Eno meant when he said that ambient music should be “as ignorable as it is interesting.”

Though it’s just 23 minutes long, the album covers an ambitious amount of ground without ever losing focus. The opening “November, 1st in Detroit” nicely captures the album’s simple-but-complex qualities by setting a handful of elements—string plucks, airy synthesizer pads, the slightest hint of marimba—in lazy circulation, drifting in and out of phase like tape loops running in parallel. The shifting pulses are reminiscent of the tide lapping against boats in the harbor, and a fluid bass solo offers the album’s most melodic moment. On “Mizue,” there’s a hint of Harold Budd in the watery piano, while “Elegy for Elodie” takes a more hypnotic approach, running simple piano patterns through multiple delays until their movements resemble the rings left by raindrops in a pond.

The album’s second half is more electronic, with quiet synthesizer melodies framed in gentle ambience. An echo of Cocteau Twins’ pristine guitar tone ripples through “After Images,” and the sound of rushing water accompanies the optimistic tones of the closing “Landscape of Perpetual Oblivion.” The most tantalizing of all, though, is the penultimate track, “Bells”—a 43-second sketch of synthesizer that transports you to the snowy courtyard of an ancient temple in a small, distant village. There’s no breaking the fourth wall here; as brief as it may be, the illusion is total.

Philip Sherburne


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