Bryan Ruhe is having a wonderful season. First came A Beautiful Weakness, the lovely music box EP released on Audio Gourmet, reviewed here earlier this year; then Small Gifts, a compilation including two Ruhe tracks, on his own Clothbound label; and now the double whammy of Easing and Organs, on Cotton Goods and Unknown Tone Records.
Those familiar with the first pair may be surprised by the sound of the second: ambient bordering on drone. The tone is still elegant, but the sources are blurred. This is especially true of Easing, the artist’s first album proper. On this album, the patina is as hazy as that of A Beautiful Weakness was defined: clouds and tendrils replace droplets and flakes. A muted choral pattern closes “Dove”, intimating a spiritual striving, while the full album slowly works its way toward resolution, concluding on the loudest and most active track, “Cadeau” (meaning “Gift” in French and “Praise” in Danish). As form emerges from wisp (a melodic pulse appearing as early as the second track), one can’t help but view Easing as a progression from an inarticulate faith to an appreciation of the inexpressible. To the layperson, those terms might seem interchangeable, yet to the person of faith they are diametrical opposites.
Finding a physical copy of a Cotton Goods release can be maddening; the time-tested way is to check Boomkat every Thursday afternoon until the new list appears. Wait until Thursday night, and you’ll be out of luck. This is rather a shame, as the physical edition of Easing is a little handmade treasure, the ubiquitous library card and half-jacket enclosed in a printed sleeve. Cotton Goods has decided to stop printing customers’ names on their releases, which is a good thing; if we want them there, we’ll use our own Sharpies. Fortunately the digital version has just been made available for those who missed out earlier.
The Organs cassette also sold out in record time, but is still available in digital form, and it’s a beauty: four tracks of shifting tones, the finest of which is the opener, “Moor & Sea”. This piece uses a more obvious choral loop than “Dove”, and sets the mood for the rest of the EP. The foreground of the cover may display a living organ – the heart – but the background displays the source of the sounds, a pair of organs on which the artist experimented for years before giving one away. The clear implication: the instrument was more than just an instrument to Ruhe, but an extension of his emotional center. A clear attachment is palpable while listening to the drenched tones of “Waterfall Kisses”; saying goodbye must have seemed like the end of a personal relationship.
Organ, music box, echo and thrum ~ there’s no clue where Ruhe may head next. Three releases have yielded three different bundles of sound, each appealing in its own way. “Moor & Sea” (from Organs) and “Oral Cues” (from Easing, reuniting artist and music box) suggest a developing blend, a mingling of ambient, drone and electronic influences that may become a signature sound. Yet even if listeners are unable to recognize Ruhe from release to release, they have already learned that his name means quality. Few artists ever produce three solid releases, much less in a single season. (Richard Allen)
Note: Unease is a brief collection of “early experiments from the Easing sessions”.
Pingback: ACL 2013: Top Ten Ambient | a closer listen
Pingback: ACL 2013: The Top 20 Albums of the Year | a closer listen