Review of Northern (Re-Issue) [12k2009]

The Silent Ballet (.COM)

Good ambient records are persistent: ageless, infinite, a fever you can’t sweat out, past drum blastbeats gasping for breath and soaring guitars with strings snapped from overuse, every setting, mood, and atmosphere is soundtracked by a respective sunny or chilly nature. Easy enough for the average artist: one-dimensional themes coincide with a checklist of jangling open chords and frozen harmonics. Yet exceptional compositions stand powerfully enough to suck the listener in and project a world onto them, as well as incorporate a variety of themes and ideas past the single layer of the obvious.

Anyone familiar with Taylor Deupree and his past work knows the story of his transition from bustling New York city-life to country stillness, coinciding with more prominent use of organic textures over electronic glitches. With this comes the decision between the sharp angles of technology and the exploration of lo-fi ambience. Northern is Deupree’s most personal work, an unpretentious autobiography cataloguing his own emotive shift without a heavy-handed message or over-bearing meaning to the work. Despite how scorching hot the temperature is outside, Northern erects snow covered forests of sonic bliss and flurries of white noise to burrow underneath. And we’ve hibernated in this sonic bastion for two years now, spouting “It’s no Northern” and content to never hear another crystalline soundscape. But stop hitting the snooze and wake up: Deupree just released the Directors Cut of Northern with a dollop of re-mixed tracks and a reinvigorating mastering.

Just as Deupree originally recorded Northern during a liminal phase of music creation, the re-release harkens back to his electronic roots: the highs are kicked up a notch, a glossy sheen covers the tracks and the whole album sounds richer and fuller. Opener “Everything’s Gone Grey” sounds extravagant in its tedium as the hissing and trickling of notes take on a more prominent resonance to push through the enveloping buzz. The 4/4 pulsing drone makes a perfect backdrop for wooden claps and sudden droplets of noise and eventually segues into a sparse outro of crackling fuzz unique to this re-release—not simply repackaged goods but a reimagining of familiar territory both sonically and personally.

Deupree walks a tightrope between his electronic past and the forward spanning organics of Northern and Stil. This equilibrium of reinvention is most apparent on the slow-building pop song “Haze it May Be.” The new version is structured identically to the original release, comprised of two movements; the first is a deliberate progression of noisy hissing and spacey ghost electronics; the second is a bare-bones expanse of twilight drone. The new mix features a condensed second movement and an altered mix in the first—tape whirring and crackling dominates the soft pulse, and high-pitched beeps break the somber spell. Yet the culmination halfway through “Haze It May Be” marks a high for the album, a grandiose swirling moment of technology and the empty expanse of space. The song summarizes the clash between past and present, electronics and organics, country and city, introversion and extroversion. While at first the shiny electronic mix reveals the album’s wrinkles and age, the bleeps and pops eventually vanish into a grey fog of drone, like Deupree into his forest home.

His tendency to explore both the subtle nuances and progression of drone and an inclination to shatter this constant for a more sporadic overture makes Deupree a radical artist: pockets of white noise punch the listener from a somber stupor in “A Dead Yellow Carpet” and an alien signal of post-rock noodling sprouts from the ethereal “Shell Shell Bye.” In my eyes, Northern is an essential record that sits with The Disintegration Loops and Pale Ravine as the Holy Trinity of Ambient, a blistering and relentless fifty minute slab of noise now leaner and fuller thanks to the unneeded but welcome re-issue: this is the version I’ll turn to in times of musical resuscitation. And if Deupree wants to change my definition of perfect again in two years, bring it. -James Anaipakos

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