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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Dave Ball & Jon Savage - Photosynthesis [Cold Spring Records - 2016]

Dave Ball & Jon Savage's collaborative album "Photosynthesis" is a synthesizer odyssey with a deep underlying warmth, a resounding low end that comfortably drones as dramatic intervals are struck like ominous horn calls.  It has the reassuring consistency of a machine steadily running for hours and hours and all night, the hum of the motor persisting even in the darkness.   It brings to mind patiently scrying for anomalies in a softly shifting bed of static, and long planetary orbits.

Eerily bent, antipatory melodic tones with long contrails creep like veins of magma across a stark blackness.  Later, the tonality disappears into an ashen digital cloud, three dimensional, immersive and modern, never losing its slow, steady undulation.  The current of momentum is constant, entrancing, leading to a circular consciousness.

This album is my favorite kind of drone, a layered texture which is lush, full and resonant.  It is consonant, open and inviting, yet somehow occult and strange, ritualized, pagan and primitive.  The unknown within this recording is formidable, as it is within nature.  It has the sense of being oneiric, subterranean, surreal.

It never leaves the listener for lack of sufficient material to focus on.  Close listening reveals a thoughtfully arranged sequence of unique gestures.  It is a complex and diverse work, varying its voices frequently, often blending timbres to the point that they can't be individually discerned.

A crisp square wave grain can be heard in many of the drones, giving them strength and edge.  At times ("ATM#1") it resembles a voice, a throat vibrating with sustained sound.  Feedback is also among the musicians' preferred tools, giving it a harsher sound than traditional Berlin School and synth ambient music.  Though this harshness is never taken to extremes, it does have a desolate, intimidating atmosphere at times, but a much brighter sound palette than most of what is called 'dark ambient'.

This album is a masterpiece of immersive soundscaping.  This album is filled with inspiration and detail.  It is a dark ambient recording without any of the satanic cheese, with enough melody, emotion and layering to stand up to many listens.  Furthermore, it demonstrates mastery of synthesizers and studio processing, with incredible ear pleasing high fidelity production.  I can only compare it to the similarly ambitious music of Lightwave, one of my favorite ambient groups ever to exist.

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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