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Steve Roach - Shadow of Time [Projekt - 2016]

Veteran ambient composer Steve Roach is a longtime personal favorite of mine, and I've drifted off to sleep to his sound countless times.  He has continued to create vast quantities of music even into his his 6th decade, at times producing gripping works of astonishing, undeniable genius, such as last year's Berlin School homage, "Skeleton Keys", a complex mesh of interlocking shifting analog synth arpeggiations.  The newest album "Shadow of Time" forsakes percolating scalar blips in favor of fluidity, lush chords and long tones, employing a sound palette of smoothed over synthetic strings, brass chorales and round waves.

Emotive melody and lush textural beauty are immediately apparent, the prominent voice being the sort of majestic, gracefully gliding Oberheim pads that typified his 80's music, such as "Structures From Silence".   The chord progressions move with a more rapid, decisive pace than the clouded mires found on most of his newer recordings,  and a clear melodicism which indicates a return to the ambient genre's classically derived Berlin School and soundtrack roots, albeit from a different angle than "Skeleton Keys".  For a second I think this must be an old recording, unearthed from the vault?  I check the liner notes. which do state that it is new, but certainly it is classic in feel, a deliberate homage to his original sound, using the original gear.

For much of the album, a lone synthesizer resounds in a misty reverberant virtual room.  Roach has returned to the simplicity and clarity of solo performance, sans overdub.   The transients of notes and the pressing of piano keys are evident as they haven't been in many years.  The note choices speak for themselves, and no further layering is needed.  Roach's thoughtful and timeless consonances ease the mind into a gentle acqueous drift, easing slowly across the sky with clouds.  The first track "Shadow of Time" could be scored for orchestra, and would sound breathtaking.

The albums centerpiece, 78 minute "Night Ascends", has a fittingly haunting, darker tone than the bright upper atmosphere shimmer of the first track, exploring the deeper octaves, and exhibiting a reassuringly firm low end whenever a chord swells to full volume.  It still sounds as if Roach is simply sitting at the keys and playing, and this directness and sparsitude is a defining feature of the whole recording.

If your idea of musical perfection is albums such as "Structures From Silence" or "Quiet Music", I recommend this album highly.  I wouldn't compare it to "Dreamtime Return", as it contains no flutes, drums, or tribal themes, instead centering solely around pads.  Roach has proven his ability to create music outside of time, as this album so perfectly recaptures the feeling his most beloved works as to be placed among them without hesitance, providing a welcome extension of that universe.

Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5Rating: 5 out of 5

Josh Landry
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