As the weather grows colder here in the Northern Hemisphere, albums such as RS begin to sound fitting, much more so than in the middle of summer, when the outside world is beckoning. With the exception of cold weather sports and caroling, winter is an indoor season, and RS is an indoor album. Ironically, it contains elements of the outdoors: vast expanses of sound, inspiring thoughts of vistas such as the one shown on the cover, and filtered choirs, a harbinger of the holiday season, which is itself a subset of winter.
In order to make ambient music work, one must do more than simply present pretty sounds. Nicholas Edward (NE) Trethowan mixes some grit into his sonic batter, which keeps the listener interested; the abrasion of “Wet of waiting” is a prime example. Such textures are never far from the surface, and can be detected in the background of other songs; little strain is needed to hear them hiding in the aptly-named “Hollow”. This track is particularly noteworthy for its use of recessed strings, which swirl like sullen winds outside one’s window. “Joiners”, which seems at first to be simply a rush of static, contains buried hums and the echoes of distant traffic, muffled to the point of abstraction. By avoiding the obvious, Trethowan creates an album of shifting intrigue, one that successfully invites the listener to lean in and take notice.
It’s sometimes difficult to distinguish where the line is drawn between computer processing and field recording, but in a few instances the designation is clear. “Lining males” contains quiet bird chatter, embedded deep in the mix, nearly suffocated by the hum of wires. The choral-inflected “Seating ache” features a creaking door that sounds like a child, or a child that sounds like a creaking door. A siren sounds so deeply in the distance of “Present” that one wonders if its inclusion was intentional. The integration of live and processed elements is seamless throughout. RS is the fireplace waiting at the end of a cold winter’s day. As a final choral wave laps against the shore and gently breaks into electronic pieces, it provides a comfort like the warm rush of a heated home. (Richard Allen)