The cold is in full force. We’ve entered the heart of winter, where breath freezes and powder blankets the earth. Fish are frozen in water. Engines refuse to start. The sun stays in bed. The world seems to be put on pause, awaiting a long-off thaw. When it’s this cold, we think of Shackleton, stuck in the ice; of explorers at the poles; of the high, snowy peaks. The Faint level understands winter, and responds accordingly.
The covers are cold wonders, inviting the viewers to consider the beauty of the forlorn season. Alexander Kopatz lives in Norway at “approximately 70 degrees North”, thus the name of his website. While primarily “a biologist and researcher studying brown bears”, he is also a stunning landscape photographer. His work is a perfect match for the output of Spain’s Faint, run by Agustín Mena, who also runs the Archives label and records as SVLBRD and Warmth.
For a full introduction to the two-year-old label, stream or download the Icicles mix, which includes tracks from across the roster, including some as yet unreleased. The sounds range from ambient to dub, and may remind some of the similarly chilled Glacial Movements label. After that, it’s time to delve deeper: to check out the individual discs from Mykja, Data Domain, Purl & Hivetribe and Svalbard himself, as well as Powlos‘ 2018 release Pareidolia. Each possesses its own allure.
The Faint discography proper begins with the founder’s own SLVBRD and the self-titled Svalbard. The Svalbard region also has its own spot in Kopatz’ portfolio. Ambient pads form a thin glaze atop which gentle percussion treads, careful not to fall through. The sky is foreboding and filled with texture. One feels the expanse: music and landscape that stretch further than the senses can intuit. With five tracks in 68 minutes, the album sets the stage for what is to come. Only in the last piece do the pulses secede, laying down an ice bridge for the next release.
Data Domain‘s Restricting Knowledge rises immediately from its ambient base to put on its crampons and masks. The rustling is audible even in the first track. This will not be a placid release, nor should we expect one given the erupting cover image. Drones edge ever closer to the foreground like hikers to an unseen cliff. At first the drama is Carpenter-esque, but then the synthesizers topple into a chasm of conversation and techno beats. While not billed as a winter work, the art influences the interpretation of the sound, inviting the mind to picture an Arctic survival thriller. The scream heard in “Repeated Allusions” may be fun or fear; the dividing line is intrinsic to the album’s enjoyment.
Purl & Hivetribe‘s Foreign Winds has an air of the extraterrestrial about it, in no small part due to the track titles (“Interstellar Frequencies”, “Airwaves”, “Invisible Forces”). Subdued bell tones add a hint of the divine. One thinks not only of Arrival, but Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And yes, there are winds, blowing throughout the album like the chill of first contact. A surprising prettiness surfaces in the piano notes of “In Transit”, an expansion of the label’s palette, presaging the album’s tempos and electronic drums. The beats retreat in the middle of the set, allowing time for wonder, returning later in short bursts before the contemplative conclusion.
And then there is North Paths, a collection of pieces purposely attuned to winter landscapes. This debut album from Mykja hides its beats for quite a while, following the template of other releases on the label. Content instead to work with texture and mood, the artist creates space in which notes can wander. The tracks are shorter than on other Faint albums, but still not short. Stereo effects come to the fore on “Hálka Mirage”, creating a three-dimensional effect. By alternating between ambience and techno, the artist highlights the twin appeal of Faint, the finest moments arriving in “Nyr Scent”, a cut suitable for adventurous dance floors.
And finally there is Powlos‘ Pareidolia, the label’s first release of 2018. On this varied set, ambience finally takes center stage. Static charges move throughout the entire disc like boots on packed snow, while wind and abandoned cylinders inhabit the sonic spaces of “Siegniorage”. A frozen brook still manages to bubble in “Inscape”, which ends in a brief segment of electronic rhythm. But the obvious highlight is “Humanaire”, as Powlos is visited by SVLBRD and pianist Kate Eveline. Her piano notes cut through the drone like a rescue cry. Even when the winter storm increases on “Every Last Time”, the feeling of goodwill continues. The beauty of the frozen land triumphs over its potential danger. While the ice seems to crack, no one falls through. One leaves safely, having witnessed the sublime.
Like what you’ve heard? Jump over to Faint’s sister label, Archives, where you’ll find more music of a similar vein. Start with the recently released Soundscapes Vol. 2 below, and from there, check out the rest of the roster! Winter music fans are particularly directed to Warmth‘s Home (a double record or CD including eight remixes by roster artists) and Logic Moon‘s Oblivion.