Various Artists ~ Solstice/Peaks

Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, known as the first day of summer and (oddly) midsummer.  We’ve come to know the Archives and Faint labels for their winter music, but their two new compilations stretch to the other side of the year.  This should be no surprise, given the fact that label owner Agustín Mena is also known as Warmth.  He donates the concluding track on Solstice, a gentle, slow roller whose title “Havet” means the sea.  This is where many of us want to be this summer, soaking in the sun and swimming in the refreshing water.

The whole set is extremely soothing.  This breed of summer is hazy and softly rejuvenating, as heard in Hirotaka Shirotsubaki’s “Summer Forest,” an invitation to forest bathing that is simultaneously the twin and the opposite of ocean bathing.  The deliberate pacing provides room for reflection and the opportunity to note subtle changes.  Shirotsubaki also released an album on Archives this year, along with Warmth, Gallery Six and Hotel Neon.  The latter contributes “Gossamer,” and reflects its title with undulating waves of drone.  There’s not a weak piece here ~ those who enjoy one will likely enjoy them all.  Many lie on the border between ambient and drone, while Robert Farrugia’s “Transition” also lies fittingly on the border between spring and summer.  One may need to press Pause to determine whether the birds one hears are inside or outside of the music.  There is also one gentle outlier: Mikael Lind’s “Havsbris” (“Sea Breeze”), marked by tender piano and a mid-piece surge of strings.

Now to the double-disc compilation Peaks, the first compilation for the Faint label (not counting that beautiful mix Icicles late last year) and an excellent introduction to the variety of artists on the roster.  At first, one notices some of the similarities to Solstice, notably the sine waves and field recordings, along with a sense of peaceful drift.  But it will not stay that way for long.  One can sense the shift as early as José Soberanes’ “Sobre Tus Aguas” (one translation: “Be careful in the water”).  Dark tones push the otherwise tranquil track into the field of dark ambient, after which those lapping waters start to seem unsettling.  Sublimated dub beats first surface on Mykja feat. Nero Deep’s “Nericoolpeel,” but eventually they will break through, and by the end of the album will have taken complete control.

A few tracks stand out, led by Mind Over MIDI’s “White Mountain” (the title a semantic echo of the Peaks theme).  The track highlights the dynamic contrast of birds and sonic foreboding; let’s call it forebirding.  The industrial flavor of Discknocked’s “Annutbiv” sent us in search of his other works, and we were pleased with what we heard; a fine summary can be heard in his 13-track, 18-minute mix Pandemonium.  Randoom shares our love for portmanteau along with a pleasingly percussive vibe; after hearing “Limestone Avalanche,” we heard a sonic connection to Discknocked and learned that both are from Spain and together form Data Domain, represented on this album with “Exponential.”

If Solstice is the gauze of a warm day, Peaks is the trench of a humid night.  Together, they greet the summer with peaceful excitement.  A happy solstice to all of our readers!  (Richard Allen)

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