Rui P. Andrade & Farwarmth’s first album as HRNS (pronounced Harness) glistens and sparkles as though underwater. Industrial synths rub against reverberant crowd recordings, while pulsing vocals interact with bubbling bass tones. The inaugural release from London label Warm Winters Ltd., Naomi often seems formless, yet flirts with clarity. With titles like “White Heron” and “Swan Palace,” and an attention to simple melody, HRNS achieve a complex serenity often lacking in contemporary ambient music.
The Portuguese duo experiments with white noise throughout the record, starting and ending most compositions with gentle static. Opener “White Heron” eases into its high pitched melody with atonal swells that mimic the sifting of pebbles or a salty sea foam. On the cleverly titled “You Will Never See the Same Water Twice,” HRNS incorporate rhythmic modulation to ground the otherwise aimless synthesizers. The resulting sound creates a helicopter effect, occasionally interrupted when its indistinct voices are drowned in a chaotic wall of sound.
These moments of sonic confusion counter the record’s harmonic forces. Andrade’s influence is heard most in the cyclical, bright pads, which elegantly mingle with the aforementioned noise, distilling quiet beauty from luscious arrangements. “Prunes De Namur” best showcases the intricacy of melodic elements, as metallic splashes and piano arpeggios cut through the fog.
HRNS add autotuned vocals on a couple tracks, to mixed yet fascinating results. The vocals on “Canadian Rifles” and “Eurostar” weave through each other, often with a low-pitched center and a high-pitched harmony, mimicking their dual synth lines. The voices are chopped and modulated, sometimes taking up too much of the composition, but other times producing a feeling of catharsis.
HRNS’ musical statement comes to a refined close with “Angeles.” The duo chops their earlier sounds into a blender, creating a puree of cascading synthesizers and pulsating, droning chords. At first, a kick drum stabilizes the gliding melodies, but soon other sounds become cornerstones. The timbre seems disoriented and unconcerned. The music eventually trails into a whisper, concluding with that same fuzzy static, quietly lulling one back into the abyss. In this final moment, HRNS latches onto a feeling of unexplored bliss. (Josh Hughes)