Bucharest band Environments have been making some of the most enthralling ambient/drone/noise music ever to come out of Romania, and they’ve been going at it constantly for four years. Ambient is not an easy genre to work within, it takes a lot of subtlety to find a distinctive voice, and a lot of patience and refinement to make that voice evolve, and yet their latest release, “Ascuns”, proves without a doubt that they have established a distinctive, remarkable sound, and that their releases are on a constant ascendant curve.
RELEASE DATE: 14 November 2015 LABEL: Dunk!Records
“Ascuns” means “hidden” in Romanian, and it is a very well chosen name for an album which seems to probe very deep into obscurity. As though looking through a microscope, it is difficult to pin down exactly what you are gazing upon while listening to this music; perception is fighting a losing battle against unseen details, textures and pulsations, and it takes a real effort of will and imagination to suddenly zoom out and see the narrative, to “spin the context”. However, this is an effort well-worth making, as the overall perspective is surprising.
There’s a feeling of breathtaking scope emanated by this album, an extraordinary attention to detail being exerted at the most minute level in order to prepare one for sudden visions of vast space. These transitions happen in the mind of the listener, but are definitely rooted in the music in a very well-crafted way, although how it manages to induce that elusive feeling of revelation in the face of the unknown and that constantly renewed sensation of sudden weightlessness remains a hidden process. However, the effect is there, and arguably, that’s all that matters.
Stylistically, “Ascuns” is a very urban record, bringing to mind sprawling, monochrome cityscapes caught in an odd oscillation between paralysis and hectic movement. Environments’ music isn’t so much evocative as it is inspiring – the vast number of textures, rhythms, noises and samples employed are not descriptive, opting instead to force the mind to create imagery almost from scratch, forcing a sort of slow-rising architecture, like a concrete tide gently seeping into consciousness. The drumming on this record is spectacular and offers a truly fantastic bridge between the abstract and the organic aspects of the music, turning the record into a bit of a paradox. I imagine this in terms of being caressed by an android hand – cold plastic molded into human shape, lost somewhere in the “uncanny valley”. The sudden swishes between micro- and macro- perspectives are mostly made possible by this extraordinary addition to what is still essentially a dark-ambient record, and it is all the more remarkable since the drums don’t seem to chop time into small, countable bits, working instead to dilate one’s perception of it. It is almost impossible to tell how long any of these songs are in relation to each other without looking at the clock, and that tells me that Environments are really playing with one’s perception in a terrific way.
The mood is unsettling, dark and delirious, and I wouldn’t recommend reckless immersion. However, if you’re prepared to be dislodged from your perception of self, of time and of space, then I can safely say that “Ascuns” is one of the most psychedelic albums I’ve heard in my life, and dislodged you will be. It’s a little scary how effective this music is, how expertly it shifts between being cinematic and being cryptic, in such a way as to jar, without ever becoming violent. It opens up a world of abstract, nameless feelings and obscure sorrows, and it does so with a certain nonchalance, which is sometimes comforting, and other times only adds to the Phillip K. Dick-ness of the entire experience. The production also complements the mood very well, with subtle transitions between bright and murky textures, and knowing when to compress in order to flirt with claustrophobia and when to employ delays and reverbs in order to expand time and space alike.
“Ascuns” is an excellent album, a hidden gem – if you’ll excuse the pun, which should not stay hidden by any means. I recommend headphones, plenty of uninterrupted time to absorb the mood, and preparedness for having your mind messed with.