Review of Ocean Fire [12k1046]

Oc Weekly (US)

Ambient records are many things—adult contemporary for aging ravers, electronica’s power ballads, soundtracks for nonexistent films—but they’re usually more Ambien than ambient, and they’re rarely political. At their best, like Global Communication’s 76:14, ambient records are Dark Side of the Moon done with samples and computers; at their most important, they’re Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, wryly commenting on Ocean Fire is more the latter, an uneasy-listening lament for the dying oceans recorded in a single sitting by San Francisco guitar shape-shifter Christopher Willits and Yellow Magic Orchestra/soundtrack legend Ryuichi Sakamoto. Willits is the Pat Metheny of the IDM set, while Sakamoto is more the classicist, turning keyboard tones into ominous, lumbering sine waves that build, billow and burn at a tidal pace.

No predictable whale-call/lapping-waves shite here. Instead, rumbling sub-bass, foggy synths, and subtle doses of IDM hiss ‘n’ pop bump up against and reinvent one another. “Sea Plains” is as agitated as it is agile, closer to Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music or the slo-mo engine-that-won’t-quite-turn-over churn of the first two Earth records than most of what we consider ambient, but that’s the point. The waterlogged feel of the tracks, most of which sprawl for seven or eight minutes, take on a bluesy uneasiness as they struggle to unfurl, like the sad majesty of a barnacle-crusted shipwreck as the remote camera floats by. Only, in Ocean Fire‘s case, we’re not just the camera, but we’re also the ship and, most of all, the dying body of water itself. Tracks such as “Sentience” have a sunnier shimmer to start, as if Willits + Sakamoto were coming up for air. But “Ocean Sky Remains” takes Willits’ guitar howl and drowns it like a cat in a bag.

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