The sun is a typical muse for ambient artists, but few take their explorations as far as Chris Weeks. On this album and companion EP, he seeks not only to reflect the sun’s beauty, but to reflect upon its composition. The one-two punch of the two recordings automatically raises them above others in the genre; this is intelligent ambience, not content to provide elegant sounds, but eager to explore the sonic field as a scientist is eager to explore variations in the sun’s surface: sunspots, solar flares, degrees of light.
The label (Nibbana) and artist may seem new, but both have been around for a while. Weeks is also known as Kingbastard and Myheadisaballoon, while Nibbana is a new offshoot of Tigerbeat6, who is finally expanding its roster beyond the beat landscape. The experience of label and artist gives them a keen advantage; neither is wading into these fields untested. And so, while the early tracks on A Haunting Sun may possess the expected shimmer – one track is even called “Black River Shimmer” – the late tracks venture into territories typically left unexplored. The trick is getting listeners to follow. After being lulled into a nostalgic glaze, some will bristle at the change; others will embrace it. For this reviewer, it works; the sun may stay in the same place all the time, but it’s not inactive, and the same should be true of any music that addresses it.
By the third track, Weeks is already traveling happily into the land of drone. His brand of drone is benign, like sunlight on a sunscreened stomach. But the vinyl crackle and music box melodies of “The Sun Key” provide the first major change in timbre. On “Shadowed by a Haunting Sun”, the instruments become clearer, less of a mulch. A light drumbeat develops. We are now entering the middle of the day, when the sun is at its peak, a threat to the unprotected, a dehydrating force in the desert. But then Weeks seems to take a short break, imagining a sun covered by clouds, and the drones return. A more linear approach might have worked better, since this shift breaks up the flow. Track-wise, it would have made more sense to group the drones together and move “The Sun Key” and “Shadowed” to a different section of the album, perhaps even the end.
The album’s later drones are more menacing than those that came before. Volumes peak higher, densities increase. The second half of “Infrared to Ultraviolet” seems a slow development from the previous track, but a seismic shift from the album’s start. In the closing tracks, the instrumentation grows once again clear, as if unable to handle the weight of the sun. Water and birds appear, an associative leap that battles against the album’s more streamlined theme.
These problems are eliminated on the briefer A Deconstructed Sun, whose ten tracks are named after the sun’s elements. The compact nature of this companion piece works in its favor, as ideas develop quickly, one tumbling over to the next. While the source material may be the same, the re-assignment of sounds and single-subject concentration provide a laser focus. This time the clearer sounds arrive first, which allows the drones, sparser here, to have a greater impact. It’s fascinating to see just how different the album and EP are: separated by a world of sound, yet eternally linked. Even popcorn glitch makes an appearance on “[Ne]”. This welcome shift allows listeners to remember that the sun has many faces. The remarkable “[Si]” carries this idea into the industrial genre, providing Weeks with his finest moments. The initial album may have launched the concept, but the follow-up sees it through. Best played as a pair, this set begins safely, but ends bravely, and well. (Richard Allen)