A certain senselessness pervades the entirety of this album, which brings together two separate, yet interrelated works. One is a soundtrack for a short film about the abuse of a teenage girl at a summer camp, and the other is an EP about seemingly moving through space but not through time. Both subtly suggest the absence of something fundamental, a central lack that undermines even the clearest, most melodic moments scattered throughout. Fairchild OST + Border Land EP doesn’t sound like a dark ambient record, and yet it utilizes some of its best techniques to develop a music that estranges with warmth, that mires listeners in an instability that seems to have no origin and yet firmly finds its grip around our selves.
The ambient wandering of the album is, in this sense, a ludic articulation of loss, one in which play as a function of joy peacefully (as peacefully as death) gives way to something bitter, the wondrous paths of summer petrified into place, a sunlit memory that refuses to cede, that blindingly wants eternity, whichever the cost. By means of sparsity and slow dislocations of the music’s flow, Jordan Reyes introduces very slight but significant tensions into pieces that would be otherwise comforting and happy; the wandering, instead of being oriented by play and self-fulfilment, is guided by alienation, by the loss of a centered self with which every path acquires meaning. The Fairchild side of the album is soft in this regard, leading listeners with care towards a destination in which they will be then abandoned, entering the Borderland in which sounds no longer seem to fit well together – it’s as if they were stumbling upon each other, clumsily clashing into an order there’s no one left to understand.
But the strange non-specificity of the borderland permeates, on repeated listens, upon the apparent clarity of the album’s first section. It was always there – the obscure confines of nothingness right where the sun is at its highest, blinding and bright. The certainties of melody and quiet, relaxing ambient crumble upon close inspection, revealing a profound, almost numbing absence beneath. That’s where the dark ambient techniques come into play: sweet little interactions of warm sounds grow into indeterminate drones; the tranquil tones of summer disarm into short dissonant grinds; whatever organic qualities the album has are reverted by the end, transformed into alarming decomposition.
While this is much more evident towards the album’s finish, the transition between the two sections is crucial for understanding just how well Reyes puts these ideas to work. The last Fairchild track, “Playing at the Pool”, is the epicenter of the record and stands out primarily for two things. First, it is built around the repetition of a single motif. This is meaningful because the rest of the album relies, like all good ambient, upon a sense of indetermination that is nonetheless reassuring. Whatever instances of repetition occur, they are always inscribed as part of an atmospheric process, of giving us a path towards some expressive end even if it never seems to fully realize. In “Playing the Pool”, the reiteration serves no ulterior purpose – it leads only back to itself. Thus, not only does it seem out of place, it also prods listeners towards estrangement, its lullaby melody a source of distancing instead of comfort. Second, it sets the tone for the dark borderland to come in bright terms, its sweetness integral to the dread it is accompanied by.
The borderland is harsher in more conventional ways, but its heaviness is implied already in the darkly vague horizons of Fairchild, its suggestions of mirthless yet tender paths without end a powerful expression of the idea of a loss of self. The violence it contains is not explosive or necessarily rooted in some outside force – it emanates from within, and it cracks whatever stability it finds. Listen carefully: are you still yourself when everything around you reveals itself to be transient, intangible, and hostile? (David Murrieta Flores)