Steve Brand: Avatara
A Produce & Loren Nerell: Intangible
New releases from Hypnos are always cause for celebration in these parts as the material is always of the highest quality, and these latest outings by Steve Brand and A Produce & Loren Nerell are more than satisfying additions to the label's discography.
Brand follows two previous Hypnos recordings (on Hypnos Secret Sounds), Bridge to Nowhere and Children of Alcyone, with Avatara, a Sanskrit word that stands for “descent” in the sense of a deity's descent from heaven to earth; the title also takes its inspiration from avatars such as Buddha and Krishna and from cultural myths about humans who've become “ascended masters,” non-human beings who choose to return to Earth to assist others. In keeping with such concepts, the album's six tracks are deep ambient in style, often long-form in design and conducive to meditative drift and elevated states. “Morning Glory” unfolds in a series of irradiated exhalations with pauses generously spaced between them, while the aptly titled “Still Here (Breathing Space)” arrests the pace to near-stillness, with percussive rustling seeming even more active when heard alongside the track's streaming washes and tones. At fourteen minutes the album's longest piece, “Act of Creation” perpetuates the meditative mood with the quiet chatter of newly born life-forms audible in between church-like synth tones. Largely downplaying percussion, Brand's becalmed material emphasizes long trails of synthetic chords, their ethereal character heightened by their pristine synthetic design, throughout its epic, hour-long journey.In contrast to Brand's recording, which hews to an immersive ambient style throughout, Intangible explores broader stylistic ground and features tracks that are less meditations than compositions characterized by thematic development and rhythm. Interestingly, it's also the first time A Produce (Barry Craig) and Loren Nerell have collaborated, despite the fact that both have been releasing music for about a quarter of a century: A Produce has issued ten albums, two of them on Hypnos, while Nerell has released work on Amplexus, Soleilmoon, and Side Effects. Multiple landscapes are evoked in the album's seven tracks, ranging from the imagined ambiance of a newly discovered planet to the earthy exotica of a humid Middle Eastern setting. The opening title track develops progressively into a stately synth-heavy meditation, with a forlorn demeanour that's somewhat offset by softly bubbling percussive elements. As if transcribing an exploration into sonic form, “Planet Atmo” conjures a spectral lunarscape of mysterious and enigmatic character that gradually discloses a faint percussive presence beneath its surface. Considerably more earthbound by comparison, “String Theory” grounds itself in a gamelan percussion rhythm and exotic instruments (flutes, hand drums), while “Area 51.1” punctuates a slow-motion driftscape with gently wailing extraterrestrial transmissions to foreboding effect. The album is at its most natural during the closing “Pot Covers at Dawn,” which augments the dense thrum of insects with peaceful, late-night murmurings. Cumulatively, Intangible's material, equally ethereal and earthy, covers multiple bases in its fifty-five minutes, and Craig and Nerell come across as nothing less than electronic shamans dispensing mystical potions to listeners along the way.