Though Rjyan Kidwell's latest Cex adventure—a double-cassette collection of ambient music packaged with a short story and illustrations—might seem initially a tad mystifying, it's, in fact, a fairly logical follow-up to Evargreaz, his 2011 EP release on Automation Records. In that regard, the earlier cassette's four instrumentals could be seen as a warm-up for the more elaborate Presumed Dead (an edition of 100), whose ambient settings clock in at about two hours in total. The cassettes are squeezed into a large-format case that includes a booklet containing Elizabeth Youle's story and Rebecca Fin Simonetti's illustrations.
The Presumed Dead title doesn't refer to Cex, incidentally, but rather the story's protagonist: explorer Henry Hudson, who was set adrift in the New World by his crew in 1611 with a canoe, some supplies, and a small group of loyal sailors (his son, John, included); needless to say, Hudson was never seen again. The weeks following his abandonment are recounted, and his daily routines—foraging for food, exercising, etc.—are described, as well as his hope that a passing vessel might materialize to rescue him. Alone after fever fells his crew, Henry ruminates despairingly on his situation before bravely setting out on a raft in one final attempt at survival.
The tracks range in length, the shortest being a mere two minutes and the longest pushing into the twenty-three area. The project's musical tone is set by the opening setting, “A Shrinking Discovery,” which tips the scales at twenty-one minutes and features synthesizer tones softly whistling and murmuring alongside sleepy bass tones and an incessant backdrop of billowing noise. By ambient standards, the subsequent piece, “Hair & Breasts,” is frenetic and agitated, filled with foreboding before mutating into a powerful lamentation. “Patternmaking” and “Final Preperation” [sic] are animated by pulsating synthesizer patterns that nudge the material into aggressive IDM-kosmische zones, while the endlessly percolating “Boiling Water” is also more hyperactive than the ambient norm. Things turn proggy and psychedelic during “The Musket” and the swirling colossus that is “Soundlessly.” “A Concentric Circle” could be likened to a fifteen-minute orgy involving time-pieces, not humans, while “John,” both blustery and ponderous, conjures the impression of a somewhat delirious Henry hallucinating that his dead son is communicating with him. Though the track titles indicate clear connections to Youle's story (evidenced by “Boiling Water” and “The Musket,” for example), Kidwell's music holds up equally well in the story's absence, especially when his material ranges so broadly that it easily transcends the strict ambient label.