Review of Upward, Broken, Always [12k2042]

Drifting, Almost Falling (BLOG)

The latest release from the 12k label is another of their inspired collaborations. Collaborative releases have featured throughout the catalogue by the likes of Marcus Fischer & Simon Scott, Taylor Deupree & Marcus Fischer, Seaworthy & Matt Roesner to name a few. This time the collaborators are label boss Deupree and the Japan based Corey Fuller. Not to be confused with the MOR bands that named themselves after American states like Chicago, Boston or Alabama, Ohio is a reference to both their birth state and the shared love of the Damien Jurado song of the same name. And not for the first time will you get any preconceived opinions of what this album may sound like, totally wrong.

“Ohio is a new project from of 12k founder Taylor Deupree and long-time label-mate and collaborator Corey Fuller. The genesis of Ohio, besides the desire to work on a full album together, was them realizing they were both born in the US state of Ohio, not far from each other, and spent their earlier years crafting young memories there before moving away. This ended up being a simple, but interesting point of departure for the project because these early, hazy memories provided compelling conceptual roadmaps for the album as well as become inspiration for the song titles.

With no lack of irony the project started with a playful cover of singer/songwriter Damien Jurado’s “Ohio.” Deeply loved by both Deupree and Fuller, covering this song liberated them from working in their traditional “ambient” comfort-zone, challenging them with new structures and new directions. Their version of “Ohio” slowed the song down and explored acoustic and electric guitars, vocals, harmonies, pop-centric song structure, field recordings and a plethora of subtle studio fun (the looped clicking motor of a Roland RE-201 Space Echo being used as a “hi-hat” of sorts) and layers.”

Due to the vast stylistic wealth of the album, one wonders if the gestation period of four years had something to do with the diversity of the material and if the two musicians lived closer and spent a more reduced time together on the album, would it sound different? I am sure that a more restricted time frame would have also produced a stunning album, but the time spent on this work has resulted in an album that feels grand in it’s nature, even when it is stripped back to more minimal moments. Deupree and Fuller traverse styles throughout the album (and sometimes within tracks) and the result is a deeply satisfying work that brings in elements that you would be familiar with the music released on 12k and also expands on it some more. For some reason, whether it is musical or an impression or vibe I am getting, I am somewhat reminded of the Oren Ambarchi and Chris Townsend duo Sun and the albums they released back in the early 00’s.

Musically Ohio beautifully blends in ambient, field recordings, electroacoustic, drone, modern classical and post rock sounds into the mix while also having a singer songwriter feel thanks to the cover that lends to the duo their name. From the albums opener “Apeiros” with it’s rumbling bottle like sounds and hi-hat that weaves in distant mournful drones before moving into a slow post rock / slow core territory and finally taking us to great sonic squalls reminiscent of Mono at their peak, you know you are in for a treat, so sit back and let your ears take in all the surroundings.

Acoustic music is no surprise when it comes to the label with the work of Gareth Dickson coming to mind and the sound that comprises “Frère” is one of hypnotic loop like guitar licks and phrases with the most subtlest ambient bathing the music that is so unobtrusive that you could easily over look it in favor of the acoustic guitar playing, but is essential to the piece, as is the field recordings of bird song towards the end as the structure of the piece becomes looser and vocals appear for the first time.”Apeiros (Upward)” is a brief ambient drone piece that could easily be expanded past it’s sub two minute length. Moving at a glacial pace with a sepia tone, the music has a calming and introspective feel and nicely rides the balance of these feelings. “Rows, Barns, Fields” feels like a culmination of the styles that have come thus far. There are drone elements, repeating melodic motifs, shimmering tones, swells of ambience,  synths and distorted guitars that create a soundscape that has all the widescreen moments of epic Post Rock mixed in with an intimacy that is seen in Ambient works.  “Cherry Blue” is the epic track of the album clocking in at just over eleven minutes. While it is epic in length, the musical nature is one that has a refined sensibility and a minimalist feel. The soundscape has tones, pulses and clicks that unfold in a dream like fashion. Snippets of voices are cast across and fractured pieces of guitar reverberate around while effects make the music feel ever more like a soundtrack to the subconscious. The gritty tape loop feel at the end makes it feel like you’ve stumbled across a recording that has been affected by the weather.

“Rows, Barns, Fields (Broken)” appears to strip back to just  the ambience of the track of the same name creating a vignette that is similar to “Apeiros (Upward)” but with a colder and moodier feeling and feels like it’s extracted from the middle point of the original “Rows, Barns, Fields” track. I wasn’t familiar with the original Damien Jurado piece “Ohio” or his catalog, so I  checked it out in comparison to this cover. The original is the opening track of Jurado’s 1999 album “Rehearsals for Departures” and while his music is described as Indie Rock, the track has folk and bluegrass feel. Jurado is known for found elements in his music and this comes across in Deupree and Fuller’s version which extends the time and slows down the pace of the original. It’s probably sacrilegious to state that you prefer a cover version over an original, but for my personal tastes the version on this album stands out. The tone of the song has changed from one of regret in the original to one of more contented reflection. The music is removed from the folk style of the original, but not too radically, into  a more ambient orientated style. There also feels a lot of space within the music that opens it up and allows the instruments to exist independently of each other and allows for tones to extend and approach filling up those spaces. A highlight of the piece are the vocals that belong to Fuller and it must be stated that his voice is one which suits the music of the duo as it has a quality that is earnest but not needy, not too light, but not as dark as Jurado’s.

“Crépescule” soaks the listener in minimalist fragments of tones with a depth of sound that ranges from up close to submerged. Residing in the Ambient/Electroacoustic territory (with hints of guitar styles from the other tracks), this is the type of piece that I probably would have expected from the outset and while I like the piece I am also happy that this track is just one of that style as it not only makes it stand out for the reason of it’s isolation against the other material, but also the fact of how diverse the album is. This diversity allows for the pieces to shine whether they are listened to in isolation or as part of the whole album. Once more Deupree and Fuller create a sublime piece that doesn’t get stuck in the deeply intellectual style that can ruin some music that falls into the same category. In a similar fashion to “Rows, Barns, Fields (Broken)” the album finishes with the blink and you will miss it “Ohio (Always)” which with it’s short forty-three second lifespan that could serve as a starting block for another artists piece with it’s all to brief shimmering dronescape

“Upward, Broken, Always” is easily in the list for the best albums of the year. It delivers on what you would expect and then some. It highlights how time and attention to an album can result in such as resounding success. It also shines a light on how using influences that are from outside the Ambient sphere can steer artists and set their works in a new light. “Upward, Broken, Always” is available on limited Double Lp in an edition of only 125 copies with side D containing an etching of a topographical map of the album’s origin state.

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