Ben McElroy ~ Home Diaries 028 / Whitelabrecs CDs Return!

This weekend, England’s Whitelabrecs released an astonishing seven EPs and albums ~ the final five of the Home Diaries series, followed by new CDs from Jens Pauly and Pruski.  This is a real sign of recovery, as the village post offices have opened again, and business, although not “back to normal,” can return to something resembling normalcy.

Most ambient music is slow, and the label began the Home Diaries series at a slow and steady pace.  At first, they were releasing one EP or album a week, then two, then four, and then the floodgates opened.  At the same time, submissions to our site rose exponentially.  Perhaps the best side effect of the pandemic has been more music, although the down side is that everyone has the same number of reviewers or less, as so many have been affected by the crisis.  If you’re a fan of ambient music, we hope we’ve pointed you in the right direction.  The full Home Diaries series from start to back will keep you occupied from rising to sleeping over the course of a long summer’s day.

Back in April, we reviewed Andrew Sherwell’s edition (04), and now we have another favorite ~ Ben McElroy‘s 028.  There’s an Irish lilt to “Rained on Saturday (Cats and Dogs),” a lovely string-laden opener that I’m playing on a Saturday prior to a thunderstorm; the music could not be more fitting.  In the background, one can hear the wind, which continues to grace “Trees.”  The tone feels like a county fair, where maidens and their suitors dance and lounge about, a reminder that once upon a time, more people died on a regular basis, and yet they still managed to have fun, relax and make babies.  Two minutes in, the strings take a back seat to a gentle wave of ambience, washing in like a salve.

As the EP continues, the restive feeling is extended.  Even in a 20-minute space, one gets the sense that nothing is hurried; the melodies will return in due time, as will outdoor dining, park and beach access, hospital visits and hugs.  And there!   In the middle of the center track, a joyous rush of acoustic guitar, followed by light conversation.  Then bicycle wheels in “Bikes,” a common sight during the pandemic.  (One of my own joys has been seeing kids riding their grandparents’ charming bikes, including one painted the color of a banana.)  Only at the very end, in the ominously-titled “The Sacrifice,” does a dark tone surface.  We’ll interpret this not as a downer, but as a reminder that our losses have been steep, and any current fun has been earned by months of self-denial.

And now to brighter things.  Pruski‘s Playground is open for business, as seen in the cover art.  This was the next album in queue when everything shut down back in March, and its theme of childhood, along with samples (some actual rain on this one!) makes it a perfect choice for the return.  Our children have been sorely affected by this crisis, unable to see their friends in person and all too often unable to play as usual, yellow tape draped across swing sets.  Recalling childhood, the artist writes, “What was it like to be surprised by the colour of the leaves, rain, and the ticking of the clock?”  The album is an attempt to recapture this mindset.  “Sprites” is a reminder of the brilliant creatures that sparkle among the trees and along the brooks, but unfortunately are invisible to most adults.  As we reopen society, perhaps this time we can allow our children to lead the way.

Now we also have Jens Pauly‘s Below, an album inspired by nature and the thoughts of last fall, when thoughts of a pandemic were far from anyone’s mind.  This time, one looks at the cover image and hears the crunch of gravel beneath feet, imagines the search for a skipping stone, wonders where the path may lead.  Each piano note in “Leaving” is delicately placed, like soft footsteps on a fragile path.  Throughout the album, water and wind become gentle companions.  They have been our companions as well during this crisis, as the artificial world has seemed little consolation.  And by “Solve,” the air begins to clear of humidity, a hopeful metaphor that our minds will do the same.

It’s been a long and difficult crisis, from which we’re only beginning to emerge ~ in some cases too quickly, as seen in Bournemouth.  But whether we are roaming about or staying at home, we can be sure that Whitelabrecs will continue to offer the type of music we need to keep us calm.  (Richard Allen)

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