Whenever I listen to “Near North” I feel like I’m this girl from the “Magician’s Nephew”, Polly she’s called. Through the use of magic she is teleported to the Wood in between Worlds where her being is reduced to some sort of half-conscious slumber. If anyone would ask her “Where did you come from?” she would answer “I have always been here.”
“Near North” is the fifth full-length outing of the Gateless Gate, an ambient/acoustic duo from Canada. From the first two, oriental sounding albums, through the krautrock-glorifying “Germania”, they have now traversed the globe to capture their homeland of Ontario. “Near North” still contains the same down-tempo, instrument-driven ambient, yet with more sonic clarity and less of a new age-sound.
RELEASE DATE: 1 April 2014 LABEL: Independent
The album starts with “Ode to Joy J”, a track that’s driven by a piano, lined with the sound of bird-chatter and a certain straightforwardness in style that reminds me of a goth rock-outfit called Ego & The Ids. After about three minutes the rest of the instruments join in, guitar, bass and strings. I dare mark that these strings are played on a synthesizer, and even though the sampling is not bad, it just hampers the song whenever I really focus on what is being played.
Like “Ode to Joy J”, the rest of the album is very simply arranged, there are not a lot of fuzzy soundscapes that back it all up; often it’s just a lead instrument enhanced by some synths and sounds of birds or water flowing.
“Ottawa River”, the next song on this album marks the advent of a choir to the album, or at least, the layering of voices. This is fairly well done and it’s a fine organic addition to the rest of the nature-sounds.
Two things that catch my attention on this album are the bass and the guitar. The bass has a really nice bite to its tone and the melodic playing makes the rare moments where the four string is employed quite dynamic. However, when talking of dynamics while discussing “Near North” feels like a sham. Sure, sometimes the mood on the album lifts, for example with “Our Forest Walk”, and sometimes it tones a bit darker, like when “Misery Bay” comes in, but in general the music stays with the same down-tempo acoustic motive.
The lead guitar tends to bring some change in that from time to time. “First Nation” for example sports a really sympathetic piece of solo guitar that makes me want to listen up. However, these moments are rare and mostly my mind just tends to drift along with the flow of the album without really paying attention to what’s happening. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. It totally depends with what mindset you want to listen to an album. If one wants to forget about normal day life and just stroll take a quiet stroll on the banks of Lake Superior, then “Near North” will neatly accommodate you.
Even though I feel a certain kind of warmth and sympathy for this album, it’s not the kind of music I could consciously listen to. It perfectly sets a certain mood, it does well in letting your mind wonder and to plainly make you stare out into space, but it does little more than that.
1 Lewis, C. S., and Pauline Baynes. The Magician’s Nephew. New York: HarperCollins, 1994. Print.