Review of Shoals [12k1060]

The Silent Ballet (.COM)

Taylor Deupree’s 12k label is arguably the flagship of modern ambient experimentalism. The high quality of 12k’s roster, which includes Giuseppe Ielasi, Solo Andata, and Machinefabriek, is enough to guarantee excitement for any new release. Although these artists seldom disappoint fans, it is still the founder who garners the most interest. Deupree’s recent work has intrigued ambient/experimental fans with a combination of strange sounds and pleasing soundscapes. Weather and Worn and Northern were good indications of his talents for warming, sonic atmospheres, and the music on Shoals expands these textures with revealing insights into the nature of sound.

Even though one can delve into the music of Shoals without need for exploring the contextual background, the experience can be improved by understanding the musical subtleties that influenced its making. A shoal is much like a sandbar that forms inside bodies of water and consists of sand and pebbles. Unsurprisingly, the music herein operates in a similar fashion. As Deupree mentioned in a Tokafi interview, “I just became fascinated by the sounds of myself moving around the recording studio and those incidental noises really played well against the tonal parts of the loops I was creating. So, more and I more I began to explore the surfaces of the instruments as I went along. There’s just something about these small, physical fragments of sound, something very real and comforting.” The sounds of the body of the guitar, its neck and strings, accidental and intentional alike, are equally important to the composer. His attention to these details comes through in the title track, wherein “mistakes” become achievements as inadvertent noises and sounds are cultivated and sprinkled with an appropriate balance of synthesizers.

Much of the music recalls the work of BJ Nilsen and Ben Frost, as the sounds open an aural landscape through the heightening of stray noises. In Shoals, synthesizer clips appear intermittently as dulcet textures permeate the cracks and crinkles. “Rusted Oak” achieves a similar balance of soothing textures and intermittent noises, but its dark atmosphere recasts the scope of the album from one of noisy humanity to one of aural transcendence as the background sounds become thicker and more palpable. During this process, sounds that once appeared innocent and familiar become intriguing and unnatural. Throughout Shoals, some sounds change whilst preserving their overall intrigue and mystery, while other, more peripheral noises appear and disappear, evolving outside the ominous, sonic textures.

Shoalsjustifies Deupree’s high profile within the experimental / ambient genre and fans will require no further prodding to investigate his latest work. However, those with an enquiring ear for geo-musical expression will find Shoals worthwhile as well, as patience will uncover its own rewards.

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