VA: Aurora 2

While many ambient collections adopt a wallflower approach, the eleven immersive pieces on Merck's Aurora 2 exude a riveting grandeur that commands attention throughout its seventy-six minutes. Almost five years have passed since the initiating installment, so it doesn't surprise that an entirely different cast appears: familiar Merck names Deru, Blamstrain (Finland-based Juho Hietala), Twerk (Shawn Hatfield), and Cepia (Huntley Miller) plus new recruits Ginormous, Max Spransy, Shapeshifter (Malcolm Goodman), Sabi (Taro Peter Little), and Kettel (Netherlander Reimer Eising).

The collection is bookended by the understated majesty of Deru's “Only the Circle” and Shapeshifter's “Tranquil Vapor” whose crepuscular waves of droning washes and ripples bring the album to a marvelous close. In between, shorter pieces like Cepia's “Ncoin Arrange,” all glitchy piano and electronic loops, and Twerk's vaporous dub meditation “From Brown to Green” rub shoulders with ten-minute epics; interestingly, dub receives another, more forceful workout in Sabi's smeary “Black Ink, Dancing in a Rainstorm.” Hewing to a more conventional ambient template are Max Spransy's lulling, acoustic guitar-laden “The Lights in the Sky are Stars,” Sabi's peaceful “Uki Reflection,” and Kettel's crystalline “Goodbye in September” which hazily unfurls like the resurrection of a long-forgotten memory.

While all of the material impresses, three especially powerful pieces stand out: Ginormous's “To Reveal Interiors,” whose industrial shuffle grandly rises above cresting waves of tonal shimmer and stormy ripples; Blamstrain's cavernous drone excursion “Spring/Summer” which slowly intensifies over eleven hallucinatory minutes; and Kettel's “Times of Running Eyes Closing” which teems with beautiful streams of elegiac synth tones. What a shame that Merck is releasing a mere 1000 copies of Aurora 2, given that music of such splendour surely deserves to be heard by vast multitudes.

August 2005