Slow moving, misty drones largely conceal the brighter, glimmering chorus of birdsong, but they can’t suppress the gloomy sound of thunder. Mystery vehicles rumble and shudder as they pass by, extremely close and yet, due to a lingering band of ambient fog, seemingly distant.
The street conversations carried out between friends and acquaintances, the static-laced reports of a local police force or other emergency services locked inside a restricted radio frequency, plus the occasional, anxious blaring of a car horn are paradoxically at one with the thoroughly chilled drone. In that respect, Quick Smart is an ambient record that doesn’t shy away from the constant struggle of modern life. On the contrary, and with tracks like “Downtown” and “Sense”, it’s embraced. And like the deepest ambient, there’s an opportunity to leave the suburbs behind.
Some prevailing constants are shared and repeated across a lot of ambient music. The glacial, two-tone swaying of “Downtown” isn’t anything new, but it’s still cold and pretty, acting like a strong glue as it sticks the clips of everyday life together. These icy drones feel as though they’ve tuned into a sparse and completely natural environment, opposing the very urbanization and pop culture of downtown life. Yes, the deep grumbling and the swoosh of passing cars is a reminder of our place, but it doesn’t dampen the ambient music; the traffic lights stay green. Retaining its deeply ambient feel despite the interference of the outside world, Quick Smart also manages to involve the listener in its rushed surroundings, and that’s quite a feat for what is generally considered an introverted genre. The field recordings place the listener inside – they don’t push.
Quick Smart is the debut ambient LP from Keith Downey, the captain of Psychonavigation Records. While he cites Biophere’s Geir Jensen as his main inspiration, Downey’s ambient music is free to be herself. As the listener gazes into the mirror of the music, a personal, unique reflection stares back; it is his alone. The seductive, rolling speech of Spanish and Italian is ambient in itself, and it’s interesting to hear and experience a piece of ambient music that hones in on the undiluted sound of dialogue, pronunciation and delivery. It’s still music.
“Sense” is an ambient language, flowing and rippling like a lake of clear water; a small, ornamental fountain steadily trickles in the midst of a bustling market. The remainder glows like a crystal with a longer, deeper sculpture, and it sits at the heart of Quick Smart. Its icy throne is pristine, cold and smooth. Reflections glint and flicker as you gaze at the glassy surface, but there isn’t anything familiar about them. A levitating, low-hanging mist shrouds the music in part-secrecy until it slowly morphs into another densely textured track. The voices gradually return; the icy world melts and then fades.
A peaceful garden closes the album, a perfectly safe space for zen-like reflection and relaxation. Wind chimes clink together and stealthy owls call out, but this being the city other, louder sounds constantly battle for attention. Dogs bark at people passing by and a mystical, faintly-remembered melody echoes out into the street before disappearing, like steam drowning in cold air. Down below, you see joggers going for an evening work out, and the last train of the day rattles by. They all compete for attention without ever really competing at all. They just blend in, and that’s the secret. (James Catchpole)
Release Date: 12 February