Zoviet France - The Tables are Turning [Soleilmoon Recordings - 2013]Zoviet France is one of the oldest groups practicing a form of esoteric ambience that gets by on its ambiguity and mysteriousness, a form of music which could as easily be a college student's bedroom experiment as a field recording of a cult ritual. Modern genre classifications such as 'ritual ambient' owe nearly everything to Zoviet France.
That said, the Zoviet France that created this new full length, titled "The Tables Are Turning", is an entirely different beast than the classic lineup, driven by the creativity of entirely different individuals, namely one Ben Ponton, who has been the central member on all the group's recent releases. Robin Storey, generally acknowledged as the creative force behind many of the groups classic albums, has formed an alternative "Reformed Faction" of Zoviet France, and has continued to release albums as well. While some fans express dismay at this, I for one am quite happy with the music of both modern incarnations.
The music found here does not remind me, per se, of the classic Zoviet France sound, but I have virtually no complaints or issues with the beautiful sound found herein, which is unabashedly emotional, tonally consonant and warm compared to the indistinct and strange alien transmissions of "Norsch" and "Loh Land". Ben Ponton's Zoviet France is not as concerned with ambiguity, aiming for a glassy, dignified and multifaceted droning smoothness comparable to the music released by such labels like Touch and 12k. Identifiable guitars, synths and chimes makes frequent appearances, and there is tasteful use of warping and processing, which often has a liquifying effect.
The closest touchstone perhaps is modern O Yuki Conjugate, who have similarly transformed over the years from a rough, percussive tribal sound to a transparent, melodic cohesive ambience. The entire album is very quiet and contemplative, with no abrasive edges. It sounds as if Ponton has been listening to some Oval, Biosphere and Stars of the Lid. The even, lapping rhythm of such loop-based music appears frequently on this disk, which often feels like it is composed of tape loops even though digital gear was likely used, at least in part. Songs such as "The Fire of Revolution II", which loops a short fragment of classical music, sound particularly like Biosphere. The mood is reserved and somber, though not overly so, and would make a good soundtrack for looking through dusty photo albums in the attic.
As others have, I do wonder why Ponton opts to continue using the Zoviet France name, what the beef could be with Robin Storey, etc. However, it's easy enough to look past that when listening to a wonderful recording like this, and overall I appreciate the emotional honesty of this sound, as the supposed 'mysteriousness' of ritual ambience can come off as pretentious and contrived. I highly recommend it to anyone open to minimal, introspective soundscapes with a dusty, rustic flavor.Josh Landry