Soft Decibels gently swells as it passes by, quietly inhaling and slowly filtering the hazy light of its microscopic world. The micro-tonal ambient music is shy and softly spoken. If it were not for the repetitive swells that venture out of its comfort zone, it would come across as slightly reclusive. Taking things slowly, Soft Decibels is almost a lullaby for a jaded world in which everything has already shattered.
Taken track by track, the music develops just as ambient music should develop. Its continuation never feels like a daydream-breaking interference or a sharp interruption. It just goes on and on, flowing into newly-sprung melodies and gentle, glistening notes as effortlessly as water trickling toward a nearby stream. Repeating passages gently wander before tailing off. The opener “Kent State” has an ornate sound to its slowly cycling, swelling notes, hinting that the music may be heading for modern classical territory, but the record subsequently leans towards the more ambient side of things.
Static-shrouded rhythms, of which there are a few, barely graze a glowing harmony. In its wake, a piano plays and then pauses, leaving plenty of space between the notes. This all adds to the overall quality of the music. Tapes and Topographies knows when to use restraint and when to push in. In “Garden District Clothier”, the guitar’s energetic undercurrent can barely be heard among the rustling of tones in what is a soft, shifting soundscape, but the strums are there. The music becomes a meditation, where the real world dampens and then disappears. Awareness melts away. The piano slowly erases the need to rush, taking back the music in the same way that nature reclaims an abandoned area. Awakening to a new day, healthy vines and new shoots start to form. “Field Test” is incredibly fresh, and its younger blood makes it all the more fragile, its oxygen perfect. “Dot Gain” presents the listener with a light drone, under which shimmering notes play on and on, rippling lightly and yet quickly. But there’s a difference between playing at a quicker speed and playing with a real sense of urgency. Soft Decibels is able to see that. And in music, particularly when it comes to ambient music, you only need a couple of notes in order to create a special atmosphere, one that’s able to really resonate with the listener. Sometimes, you don’t need any at all.
If it wants to be effective, this is exactly what ambient music needs to be. It needs to hit home emotionally without ever using force. Subtlety is the key. Soft Decibels has it. (James Catchpole)