This morning, I got in the car just in time to hear another violent news incident reported on the radio. As I drove, the anchor continued to dwell on the story. Fortunately, I had packed Ross Baker‘s newest album. As I switched from the news to the music, a wave of necessary calm washed over me: calm that I wished not only for myself, but for the world.
Perhaps this is the modern point of ambient music – not to dwell in the background, but to nudge an inner peace to the foreground. Not everyone is at peace, or wants to be at peace, which is why violence continues to hold us in its icy grip. The battle is not simply between war and peace. It’s also between engagement and withdrawal, hope and despair. At its best, ambient music does more than calm; it encourages, reminding the listener of the goodness that remains in the world, and that quietly outnumbers the bad.
Photographic Reflection begins humbly, with two minutes of field recordings: birds, bees, a passing plane. The birds and the bees don’t care for our violence; they just go about their business, unaware. As Baker begins to play acoustic guitar over rain in “Holly Blue”, he eases us gently into the musical portion of the album, but the animal kingdom returns two tracks later, and then again on “Clockwork Wasp” with boos and baas. This solidarity with field and farm is one of the album’s most endearing aspects.
While the acoustic guitar is the primary instrument, Baker also utilizes synths and piano, the latter especially effective on the playful “Song Thrush”. On two occasions, he sings like a shoegaze artist, with the reverb nearly drowning the words. While greater clarity may or may not have been intended, Baker impresses more with the spoken word “Spires”, reciting poetry in stately yet kindly tones. The end of the album returns to the start, with field recordings: nature entered, then left. If carried in our hearts with hope, these reflections can serve as both a balance and a boost. (Richard Allen)