Commonly, the hazy and indeterminate quality of ambient music makes it easy to associate with mental states in which the unconscious takes over, directing your attention in patterns novel to your understanding. There’s something of a contradiction in the clarity of the connection between ambient and dreams or daydreams, of purposefully entering your own mind and emerging on the other side with mere traces of a map impossible to follow. With Dreamless, Conor C. Ellis seems to suggest we can move on from the labyrinth of the layers of attention into something more akin to an organized archive: everything out of view is not symptomatic, but solely out of focus. The cover art evokes this principle, the transparent leaves of a plant not a ghostly or ethereal absence but a detailed map of their beings; the blurred background, full of vaguely white shapes, is not the domain of symbolic infinity but more simply a field of possibility for clarity.
Ellis composed Dreamless as an impressionistic album of personal memories, filling it with field recordings and drifting electronics that point towards the careful observation of certain moments in life. Lest we forget, impressionism was originally drawn to the latest science of the eye, an approach later subverted by its mingling with the sweeping fantasies of various artists, but it is useful here to recall that it was the sensation of the surface what most mattered in many an impressionist work. “The Wishing Well”, the opening track, glows with electronic textures that suggest a room full of water, but the sounds are all cut up, preventing immersion, a collage of aquatic sensations that precludes depth, understood as the looming otherworld of unbound imagination. This wishing well is not here to make us metaphorically lose ourselves to our internal labyrinths, but to ground us, to grasp your full attention and throw it to the here and now, to the contact between your senses and your surroundings. Therein lies the beauty of the superficial.
This is an emotional form of ambient that needs no concept of the unconscious, of an unknowable mass of layers. All it needs is the bodily reaction to remembrance, the point at which we stop perceiving a difference between the memory and the senses themselves. “Protector” and “Every Moment is a Celebration” follow through with the promise of the wishing well, texturizing feelings of well-being without recourse to a sudden loss of self through the shifting of attention. Their ethereal qualities (a distorted singing voice, the joyful noises made by children slowly emerging from the background of the mix, into the forefront), like the leaves of the cover art, map the swells and retreats of how remembering feels like – a warm tug in your belly, a slight pull in the hair at the back of your neck… this dreamlessness is driven, after all, by the precise activity of neurotransmitters.
“Dream Dog” is perhaps the most ‘dreamful’ track in the album, but the echo of the field recording of a dog’s bark, aligned with a crystal-clear quiet piano melody, hints at this not being a stand-in for the dream itself, but the after-effects of a dream, the lingering sensations of a restless night. The following track, “A Lucid Understanding”, foregrounds the clarity of the piano playing, set against a low drone that turns into a noisy collage reminiscent of the one found in the wishing well. A voice surges from amidst the electronics, sometimes weak, sometimes strong, but never lost: there is no soundscape here, tied by an unconscious vastness that remakes the world in its image, but a sound-skin, the lucid understanding a bodily impression, stark and powerfully present.
The album ends by affirming that presence in a sort of binary emotional register, sadness and happiness. “I Drew the Sun 1000 Times” bears the distinct weight of a difficult memory, a contradiction in passions whose short focus and development nonetheless leaves little room for free-falling into melancholia; “Mother’s Beach” sways with the sweetness of time spent with loved ones, and its equally strong and precise focus prevents the music from swelling into more intense positivity. These controlled, contained pieces showcase the dreamlessness of Ellis’ approach, which produces an ambient that is clear-cut, impressionistic, and made for the skin: in accessing a transparent internal archive we perceive memories in ways that make the surface of our bodies brim with sensations and emotions. Open the album, focus, and feel your remembrance. (David Murrieta Flores)