Clean Gloss: Soften evaluate | John Lewis’s up to date album of the month
The music journal Uncut not too long ago featured a cover-mounted CD and an accompanying article celebrating “Ambient Americana”, subtitled “a highway journey throughout psychic state strains”, whereas the Guardian surveyed the “ambient nation” scene in 2020. Also called “post-country”, “cosmic pastoral” or “bootgaze”, it’s a micro-genre that has been percolating for many years. Consider Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to Paris, Texas; BJ Cole’s collaborations with Man Jackson or Øyvind Skarbø, Brian Eno’s work with Daniel Lanois, the avant garde primitivism of John Fahey, and even The KLF’s Chill Out album. Lately it has been taken in new instructions by the likes of Chuck Johnson, Mike Cooper, Marielle Jakobsons and the Nashville duo Hammock.
The most recent growth within the style comes from Clean Gloss, a duo from Sacramento, California, comprising Patrick Hills and Morgan Fox. The pair have a historical past in thrashy punk and experimental bands however, since signing to the Cologne-based digital label Kompakt, they’ve moved in a extra ruminative, improvisational route. Their debut album Soften is a futuristic journey by way of the US desert, one which dismantles the defining sonic tropes of American roots music (woozy pedal metal thrives, slurring fiddles, brushed drums, the twang of a reverb-drenched electrical guitar) and reassembles them as disembodied sounds, put by way of an ambient filter. The place a lot electronica conjures up concrete brutalism, spacious warehouses and neon-lit motorways, Soften suggests vast open areas, enormous skies, countless horizons and dust-dry roads.
These improvisations typically take away any rhythmic anchor – once they do introduce a pulse it’s typically irregular, just like the twisted new age beats of Strolling Towards the Finish, or the slithering double bass and piano patterns on Strewn All Over, which begin at a mild 6/8 canter after which hold subtracting beats, leaving us with a gloriously disorientating time signature. Opening observe These Who Plant weaves a wistful EBowed guitar round synth drones and Harold Budd-style piano voicings; Rags is sort of a Dick Dale tour de drive performed at a snail’s tempo, with a reverb-drenched surf guitar taking part in extremely sluggish movement arpeggios that resonate sympathetically with muted piano riffs. Better of all is the heartachingly lovely Of a Vessel, which appears like a chunk of ECM jazz that has been warped within the Mojave solar.
Additionally out this month
Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp are a barely ramshackle 12-piece collective from Geneva whose music is genuinely uncategorisable. Fifth LP We’re OK, However We’re Misplaced Anyway (Bongo Joe) leaps from drone-heavy electronica to Philip Glass-style repetition to gypsy brass band exercises to folksy chants and slow-burning post-punk with alarming effectivity.
After a number of LPs experimenting with visitor vocalists, sampling and dancefloor beats, lockdown has pressured Portico Quartet to return to fundamentals with Terrain (Gondwana), a collection of three prolonged actions: certainly one of shimmering Steve Reich soundscapes, a second of hypnotic, acoustic drum’n’bass, and a 3rd of quietly ecstatic temple music. Their greatest but.
Additionally launched on Gondwana is Music for Movie and Theatre by Hania Rani. The place the Polish composer’s earlier LPs have featured fairly slight miniatures for muted piano, these (used and unused) soundtracks for stage and movie productions see her increasing her sonic palette with strings, digital drones and microtonal buzzing to create one thing genuinely affecting.