The Superstorms project began when Michael Tolan grew “frustrated and bored with the tropes of ambient music”. The artist resolved to make a different sort of ambient album, a resonant statement to the industry. The good news: he succeeded. The bad news: he tried so hard that he blasted his album into another category. For while one can intuit the connection to ambient music in Superstorms, it’s primarily a drone album.
These categories have always shared a border, to the extent that many publications combine them into one (Ambient/Drone). Superstorms shares the structure of ambient music, but it’s too consistently abrasive to be considered ambient. This thick abrasion is one of the album’s selling points, so it’s ironic to note that some of the album’s best moments are those in which the aforementioned tropes appear: clear-cut chimes and bells, rising over the distorted mesh. These subtle touches add a humanizing effect to what might otherwise be considered a cold set.
The genesis of the sounds is a fascination in itself. Tolan’s sources are primarily “in the red digitalia” that “would have been left … on the cutting room floor”. This image may not be literal, but it’s fun to imagine Tolan entering a sonic laboratory after the scientists have gone home for the night, sweeping up the unwanted sounds: jagged pieces of plastic, metal shavings, dust bunnies. The artist works in low light, so as not to be discovered, creating an electrical beast with duct tape and staples. “My creation!” he exclaims, as lightning flashes in the background. A raised pitchfork bisects the sky.
And yet, this is not the complete story. In a fit of late mercy, Tolan weaves ambient guitar passages into the concluding tracks, as if relenting. Given the title, one might interpret these as the calm after the storm, the light drizzle landing in lonely puddles, the drops falling from overburdened leaves. Is the artist suggesting a change within the ambient music category, rather than an exodus? If so, “Part 5” may be his plea. The music-free clatters of the final 40 seconds imply movements in a deserted studio. The sound levels drop back to zero, waiting for direction.
As proven here, discarded sounds can be beautiful. Even red noises can be soothing when blended. If “ambient abrasion” becomes a genre, Superstorms will be a reference point. (Richard Allen)
Release date: August 30