On, the second installment in a three part ambient triptych by Augsburg’s Hidden Shoal Recordings and acquiring a copy of this very moving, painstakingly detailed release., became available in June and I confess to downloading it promptly with the full intent of producing an immediate, very possibly glowing review. I realize I can’t say much at this point for my turnaround time, but the release is in fact excellent and if a month and a half isn’t too late to do some good for Mr. Mehr then I highly recommend heading over to
Truth be told, part of the delay in writing this review stems directly from the intensity and quality of the music. When artists request a review, I generally warn them that it can be a slow process because I have to listen to a release several times before I begin to feel like I’ve heard it well enough to write about it. With On, I’ve definitely heard it and have had something to say since my first listen way back on the drop date, but even at this point I don’t feel that I’ve met my “well enough” criteria. That is, the music is so layered and guards its secrets so well that even after many listens I question whether anything I write can do justice to the music or give anyone any idea of the experience of listening to it. The best I can really do is just say once more: Grab this release. It’s fantastic.
Even so, I’m gong to take a stab at this. By comparison with its predecessor, In, On is much less focused on soundscaping. Instead, each of its eight tunes fall squarely within pop-song length and likewise accomplish a rock/pop like sense of drive, direction and focus. The presence of vision and unity provided by an overarching concept are still there, however, and although each tune is unique and can stand well on its own within any ambient noise playlist or radio stream, the individual songs also profit from the depth of concept and the rich contrast between the release’s many themes and textures. The timing of the samples and the variety of textures interposed with sometimes graceful, sometimes frenetic melodies is exquisite and reveals a sense of composition and purpose that is extreme for ambient music and reflects one of the truly outstanding qualities of the overall piece. For the greatest emotional range and best sense of what I’m trying to get at here, I recommend Flaming Youth, Only for a While and Tunnels as the standout tracks for a first listen. But keep in mind, three tunes is just a taste and On is a bona fide feast. Multiple and even subsequent listens of the whole release will prove highly rewarding.
One thing I have not done, which I’ve left as my treat for accomplishing this review, has been to listen to In and On together, in sequence. Though I feel it could have added a lot to this review, the reason I haven’t done so is because then it would probably have taken another two months to get my thoughts together and by then the final piece in the triptych would be out. We already know the title of the pending final release to be Off, with the full title set of the triptych describing an outward movement. But from what to where? What central point has been abandoned? What chaos are we headed towards? That may indeed be the question Mr. Mehr is asking, but I think there’s an answer in the music, too. Compared to what I recall from In, there’s something organic and bazaar like about On that makes me think of leaving home, of seeking diversity as well as adversity simply for the growth potential that accompanies any experience of the unknown. It’s not all dark in the moment, and it’s not all quaint in retrospect. There, I did it. Take that one sentence for the review and then go download Markus Mehr’s On.