Steve Roach - Spiral Revelation [Projekt Records - 2016]
Synth ambient pioneer Steve Roach has continued with a relentlessly prolific stream of releases since the early 80's.
"Spiral Meditations" came in 2013, a blissful arpeggiated soundscape with many of the timbres and chord structures found in 70's Berlin School music like Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream, but with a looser improvisatory flow that contrasts the dramatic/cinematic progressions of classic Berlin School. 2015's "Skeleton Keys" also explored this idiom. He has created music in this vein throughout his career (beginning with "Empetus" in 1983), but seems to have placed a greater focus on it in the last few years.
The results of these forays into sequencing have produced some of the most memorable Roach releases. The melodic stairstepping adds a clarity to Roach's melodies which I have come to prefer, as many of his acqueous drift albums are difficult to actively pay attention to. He has proven that arpeggiation itself is a deep and valuable art form. Some degree of randomization is present in the way the melodies unfold, as well as some degree of keyboard performance, and some degree of sequenced composition. How much of each he is doing is not clear, as the approaches are skillfully interwoven.
2016's "Spiral Relevation" is the successor to the 2013 release, and draws significantly from "Skeleton Keys" too. It takes a more serene tone than the at times mysterious and haunting "Skeleton Keys", and emanates the same brilliant bright love as the first "Spiral" release. These two albums express a deep contentment and soothing peace, a rare permutation of calm completely absent of lethargy. It is the feeling of excitement at being fully engaged with life and the surrounding world.
The texture could not be more lush and majestic. Roach's characteristic Oberheim string pads intertwine with the bubbling scalar grid-work of subtley arpeggiating chords. Where many Roach albums are sparse, with long contrails into silence, this music is enveloping and layering, a warm womb of physically pleasurable resonance and tonal complexity.
Like many Roach albums, it initially appeared indistinguishable from previous releases, and gradually revealed its unique melodic fragments, understated emotions, and narrative intelligence. The masterstroke here is the final track, in particular, titular piece "Spiral Revelation", 18 minutes in length. Not as emotionally settled as the rest of the album, this song expresses an existential vertigo which I would compare to staring directly upward into the sky.
All in all, an absolutely top shelf Roach album, highly recommend to anyone open to ambient synthscapes.