Review of Ocean Fire [12k1046]

Resident Advisor (.NET)

At first blush, a collection of ambient pieces dedicated to the “healing and restoration of our fragile oceans” may seem a bit trite, harking back to the sort of sepia-tinted new age meditation records that clog the used record bins. Thankfully, Ocean Fire manages to break the stereotype by eschewing the strictly representational—i.e, samples of breaking waves or ocean rumbles—and exploring decidedly darker territory. The record is also darker territory for Christopher Willits and Ryuichi Sakamoto, too, moving beyond their usual guitar-and-laptop ambience and sparse piano meditations into striking, although sometimes less than satisfying, waters.

Though neither artist is a stranger to collaboration – Sakamoto has paired with everyone from Alva Noto to Christian Fennesz, while Willits has worked with a host of producers ranging from shoegaze heavyweight Brad Laner to IDM iconoclasts Matmos – their individual styles have always managed to shine through. Ocean Fire is the exception to the rule. I had anticipated the album to fall somewhere between the restrained piano haikus of Sakamoto’s Comica and the melodic tea garden ambient of Willits’ Folding And The Tea, a combination that would’ve made for the perfect bedtime record. Instead, Ocean Fire is dedicated to tension and drama, all but abandoning chiming keys and micro-samples in favor of thick slabs of resonant drone and widescreen soundscapes that overwhelm more often then they becalm.

The brief passage “Umi” stands out as the only real fault on the album, cutting off in mid-note before it hits its stride. The other six tracks are perfectly realized sonic portraits of the ocean floor, evoking the smooth, endless abyssal plain via enveloping drifts of physical sound with nary a beat in site. It’s definitely heady stuff, but as the disc spins to a stop, you could be left wanting. While Ocean Fire may be an expert and artistic record, something more overtly pretty rather than strictly challenging might have been more satisfying.

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