Recently, Amsterdam’s Shimmering Moods Records has shifted and morphed into something else. It now (for the time being, at least) presses instead of leans towards a darker ambient styling. It hasn’t quite reached the fathoms of doom drone or the ambient sound of rain-soaked misery, but a noticeable shift in both tone and atmosphere has occurred. The sun has gone behind the clouds.
And so, in this period of blue malaise, Sapphirine Phlant’s Until The Light Takes Us grips the listener with a suitably dark record, as gloomy as a cave containing nothing but dull crystals that used to emit shards of light. Now, they only give off a cool glint.
Eyes stalk you from the dark. A female voice stutters in and out, lost in her own psychotic musings, and the synths slowly glower the longer you look at them. You wouldn’t want to be alone out here.
The wings of flying crows shroud the music in a black cape. Sunshine is suppressed; the only light that enters is a dull, rusty gold. And while ambient is often (and rightly) cited for its relaxation, rehabilitation and healing abilities, dark ambient is a very different entity. It would utter a harsh laugh if you tried to promote ambient’s serenity while in its presence.
Something lies just out of sight, and the pale lamps do nothing to ease the darkness or the sense of slight unease. As the sharp clap of thunder echoes across the sky, the tumbling clouds drop their cold rain onto the streets. That’s the coda, “Tears Of God, In Which They Did Not Believe”. A cool progression accompanies the rain. Importantly, Shimmering Moods avoid the depressing side of the dark music, the fallen spirit that can’t get back up; instead, it’s a cool vibe. Maybe it’s unintentionally slipped into the darker strains of ambient by accident, the way you might sleepwalk into the wrong side of a town you’ve never visited before. For now, you’re stuck here. Or until the light takes us.
Notations of the Form is another darkly-lit piece of music. Ian Martin uses sounds from everyday life, shaping them into twisting, heaving nightmares that rest uneasily on top of ethereal drones. Strange, half-mutated melodies emerge out of the black water, shifting and shuffling like a group of bright-eyed alligators. Brighter notes light up the music, but a low, monotone bass stops it from smiling. The light can only glint darkly, because it’s been smeared by a midnight bass. Cool, pine-scented synths and little drops of cold rain rattle against the side of the music’s windshield as it travels deeper and deeper. And despite being electronic in tone, the music evokes nature, its dense, dank atmosphere like that of a camping trip in a strange forest after the sun has gone rogue.
A buried tension lurks underneath the soil, rising inch by inch as the music progresses. The slackening rain makes way for a cooler wind, and the dark, tonally-deep melody of “Given Chords” is entombed in a claustrophobic space. There isn’t much room to breathe, and the track’s narrowing gives it more of a fierce growl as it slowly prowls and pads around the confined cage of the music. A constant, palpitating pulse provides the backbone for “Fathareed” while other tones swoop over the higher land, and the wind never stops its ominous whistling. “Medusa” thrums like the rapidly beating wings of a sprite. The air warbles and then distorts, rising and falling in a swinging motion.
Shimmering Moods aren’t saying whether this is a permanent shift or a temporary exploration into the darker side of ambient, but it’s a fascinating departure nonetheless, more of a dim glint than a golden shimmer. (James Catchpole)