Distant Fires Burning: Build On Me

One thing that distinguishes Build On Me, the third Distant Fires Burning album, from other ambient-drone soundscaping releases (as well as his own previous albums Messierobjekten and 7 Sisters) is that Gert De Meester created its eight settings using Fender Jazz Bass as the basic sound-generating device. This seemingly restrictive strategy doesn't, however, translate into music of limited scope; on the contrary, the Mechelen, Belgium-based producer (also the bass player in The Seven Laws of Woo) manages to create music of a broad sonic and emotional range—some of it brooding and nightmarish, some serene and even uplifting—from a modest pool of materials.

“Inevitable in the Wake of Words” gets the album off to a gloom-laden start by guiding the listener through a haunted soundscape of graveyard noises—insectoid whirrs, muffled tones, moans, and washes—and static-drenched vapours. While the bass is hardly a conspicuous presence on that opening piece, it's clearly audible in “Variable.” De Meester liberally manipulates the instrument's sound, however, until the repeating bass figure becomes one element in a synthetic mass that ranges from gently combustible to becalmed. “Oppression” strips the Distant Fires Burning sound to its bare essence by featuring nothing more than the bass and related effects. Even here, though, De Meester's able to retain interest by transforming the instrument's tones into a droning swirl that at times swells almost viciously and generally comes to resemble a cosmic analog synthesizer more than it does an electric bass. “Science Stops....” presents a pretty cosmic meditation one would guess was produced using electric piano and synths if one didn't know better, and though bass plucks act as a key guiding element in “Listen to Me,” the presence of animated analog synth patterns and choral exhalations pushes it into a different genre category altogether. On the down-side, the absence of standard rhythm elements can make the album feel long, especially when its sixty-seven minutes includes four tracks in the nine-minute range. An album of this kind generally works best when it clocks in at something closer to fifty minutes.

July 2010