We recently reviewed a band named Glockenspiel who didn’t have a glockenspiel, and now we meet a band named The Ambients who isn’t ambient – although ambience is a key factor in understanding their music. The music of The Ambients lies somewhere between the slowcore of Codeine and Low and the early efforts of Do Make Say Think. In other words, it’s slow, but it’s not that slow. Patience is required when listening for the first time, but on subsequent listens, it all starts to make sense. The double album debut is a statement of faith in taking one’s time. James Gleick (the author of Faster) would be proud. The shortest track is 7:01, the longest 20:00. A lot will happen over the course of the album, but listeners will have to wait for it.
As befits its title, Into Red Dust is a hot album, reflecting summer heat, desert sand, and mountain crag. It’s meant to reflect the Australian landscape, and is so effective that most listeners will think of the Outback without reading the prompt. The music is as wide open as the stretch of land on its cover and the empty highway inside. One can see for miles, which makes for peaceful driving conditions – unless one breaks down. Even while listening, it’s best to keep a bottle of cold water nearby.
Into Red Dust is not the first effort from this trio, who released one album in a prior incarnation as b’Borfic sixteen years ago. The trio’s music mirrors its career trajectory. (Watch for a new album in 2029.) The music reflects the idea that everything will work out over time. A lot can happen over the course of a decade and a half. When one looks back, one can see how far one has come, although one might not notice the incremental changes as they are occurring. In the same way, these songs develop over the course of many minutes, and only at the end can one look back and wonder at the distance traveled. The languorous title track provides the best example. Despite its weariness, the music remains in motion, like a restless nomad singing his story around a desert fire.
Working with only guitar, bass, drums and occasional tabla, the trio creates tableaus that stretch as far as the ear can hear. In a couple spots they do kick things up a notch, providing builds that never peak. “Albury” is the album’s most upbeat track, providing evidence that the band can rock out, they just choose not to. The climax of “Charu” offers a quiet dust storm, but nothing requiring the listener to take shelter. The 20-minute closer eases the listener softly to “The Other Shore”. Could this track, or the album, have been shortened? Sure, but that would defeat the entire point. Life is a wide expanse, not a series of peaks, and The Ambients are true to their vision. (Richard Allen)