Steve Roach - Etheric Imprints [Projekt - 2015]Here's a late 2015 release from prolific veteran ambient electronic musician Steve Roach. The faint, cosmic scale space ambience found on this recording strikes a contrast to last year's "Skeleton Keys", which was a tapestry of interlocking melodic arpeggios owing much to the original Berlin style of ambient as created by Klaus Schulze. Roach has many albums of this kind in his long discography, however, notably the "Immersion" series.Roach has historically been a very patient musician, unafraid to dwell for long hours in cloudy, nearly static tonal spaces, with countless albums containing unbroken 70 minute tracks.
The first piece, title track "Etheric Imprints", is especially vaporous, sparse, a vast near-emptiness. The only sound in the entire 30 minute length of the track is the long, luminous contrail of a distant and waterlogged piano tone, reminiscent of Harold Budd. It is a remote, somnolent sound environment, but not unsettling, as the smooth texture is quite pleasant, the murmuring tones occasionally arranging into ghosts of romantic daydreams. Overall, it is rather meandering and unfocused, and I would call it soothing, but difficult to directly listen to or engage with, as it seems to begin and end in vast motionlessness.
"Indigo Shift", the 12 minute 2nd piece, is a cold, haunted texture, a drifting, distant drone with a ghoulish way of bending in pitch, of eternally descending, a sensation of vertigo, of losing vertical orientation, of removal from the safety of the body. Some kind of percolating chromatic scalar pattern occupies a muted lower register deep in the backdrop, sounding like an excerpt from a Messiaen organ piece. Unwelcoming it as it may seem, I enjoy this one for the fact that it's not quite typical Roach, sounding more like the haunted subterranean surrealism of Cyclobe or Nurse With Wound to me, with a dreamlike macabre feeling.
From there, the album gains a bit of warmth and volume with the gentle, overtly chordal consonance of "Holding Light". Swells of luscious, shimmering synth undulate with the calming regularity of lapping waves. There is a sense of true contentedness and reverence in this track, the most immediately lovable piece on here by far, a soulful progression to rival the most memorable pieces from his classic "Mystic Chords & Sacred Spaces". Listening to this piece is blissful, and yet inspires a painful degree of compassion, and reflections upon the inevitability of time (as the best ambient music does). With the perfect emotion captured by this track, I wouldn't have minded if he'd put it out as a 70 minute album on its own.
"The Way Forward", 4th and final piece on the album, continues the re-assuring feeling of "Holding Light", this time a single voice (rather than cloud-like chord) throwing out playful melodic phrases in soothing watery undulations. Though the soft siren song of this track is in many ways similar to the 1st piece, here the sound seems to burst with light, energy and color, where that track had only dimness. Later in the track, warm brassy swells and mellotron-esque synth create a soft bed of gently comforting energy. This is an absolutely lovely track, and also ranks among my absolute favorite Roach.
Upon first hearing the album, I was a bit underwhelmed by the general minimalism, distant feeling and slow pace of the first two pieces, finding them difficult to focus upon. Admittedly, Roach has many albums so sparse as to be difficult to remember or derive meaning from, even after many listens. I appreciate these to some extent, but would not call them favorites. However, "Etheric Imprints" turns out to be a bit more diverse than that, with the affectingly melodic and boldly beautiful 2nd half providing a glorious compliment to the subtle opening sections. I wouldn't say it's one of Roach's most accessible works, as it unfolds very slowly, but it is a balanced and well considered album, an experience that improves the more times it is repeated and considered. It has become a favorite album of mine for sleeping, and certainly ranks among his better slower paced recordings.Josh Landry