We are constantly aware of ourselves existing in space. We prefer the country or the city. We like our walls a certain colour. We feel at home in one place, or forever on the move. But our existence in time is less conscious. Perhaps we avoid our mortality. Do we prefer carrying around the past, or existing purely in the present? What kinds of future do our hopes and fears summon up? Two new albums of warm ambient music give different answers.
As the title suggests, that’s what it will be like wears a utopian impulse on its sleeve. This is an impressive debut album from thme (Parisian artist Théo Martin). It conjures up blissful soundscapes, delicate as unspoken wishes. Acoustic instrumentation is somewhere at the foundation. With layers of drones, echoes, crackles, and nearby voices, thme transforms melodies into glittering daydreams of a time to come.
This is not a sickly-sweet record. It is carefully structured to capture a sense of menace, even in its utopia. In the first two tracks, ambience flows over singing stones, into a swaying ocean of sound. Around the halfway point, melodies evaporate into cloud, cut through by sharper rays of sunlight. Rain falls against windows. The final track, “anchor”, subsumes the unpleasantries. Our airship halts amid stratus clouds of ambience. The anchor chain rattles. The bright, limitless opening seems far away. But we find a fixed point from which to consider futurity.
Time moves differently on Ephemeral Visions by Almanacs (Wilmer Murillo from Honduras). Rather than an expansive vista of the future, we get isolated pockets of time. The eleven tracks each capture a temporary formulation of Murillo’s modular synth setup. In these sonic snapshots, we glimpse visions that came and went, never to recur.
Murillo’s pockets of time must be full to the brim. Last year, Almanacs albums appeared in January, April, July, and December. Much of this music has a vintage fuzziness, which we still get on tracks like “Peach”. However, Ephemeral Visions is mostly a crisper fruit. Its ambience is sketched in bright tones, a backdrop to clean shards of melody.
On some tracks, the synthesiser masquerades in plucked string motifs, sculpted into multi-tiered structures. “Flee with Me” captures the organicism of woody percussion, dissolving into a meditative event. Other moments celebrate the synthetic, as buoyant synth refrains move in and out of focus. As always, the best visions encounter trouble but still reach for triumph. At these points, the clean edged tones acquire a grainy burr. In the final and longest act, “Rain and Sand” elementally cleanse, as the timbre of metallic strings gets washed into an echoing mass.
If paint is a way of customising space, sound is a tool for decorating time. In this last trimester of 2020, some of us are avoiding any thought of what it will be like. But it is soothing to believe in the optimism of thme’s music, if only for half an hour. Meanwhile, Almanacs reassures us that each lived vision will only happen once. Time waits for no-one, but we do get choices in our temporal experience. (Samuel Rogers)