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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

Steve Roach - Painting In The Dark [Timeroom edition - 2016]

From December 2016 Painting In The Dark was the third album to appear from this US ambient legend last year. And it sees him offering up a selection of often subtle harmonic edged examples of deep ambience & thick- yet expansive synth scaping, which flits between dark & slightly lighter hues.

The release came as either a CD or digital download, and I’m reviewing the CD version. This comes in a four panel digipak, which takes in a selection abstract watercolour like patterns, and a quote from Carl Jung “ One does not become enlightened by imaging figures of light but by making darkness conscious”- which is most apt for the selection of ultraslow & glacier-paced  dense synth string scapes on offer here.

The album takes in six tracks in all, with a total album running time of seventy-three minutes. And first up we have “Threshold”, and befitting it’s title this feels very much like a entry point between our world, and the album’s world. As we get this slowly stretching & circulating sonic vista that moves between bright & ringing harmonic rotations, mid-ranged drifts ‘n’ pulls of tone, and distant deeper hovers. The whole track feels like a slow expanding shape made of slowly darkening hues, that’s getting larger & wider with each passing minute, as one gets pulled in deeper & deeper.

Next, we move on to the track “I See Now”- this ten & a half minute track fully ushers you into the darker side of the album. As it’s a gloomy & pressing blend of sustained-yet-slowly tone shifting lower-to-mid range synth simmers, which are edged with sinister & angular twinkling harmonics. As the track moves on we get the occasional stretched & descending drone, and this deepens the feel woozy darkness as if your falling further down into a darkly curdled atmosphere.

Track three comes in the form of the nearing nineteen & a half minutes of “Painting At The Edge”- which is the longest track here. This is built around a series of very slowly shifting layers of drone matter, which glacially drift & hover  over each other. The tone here is still relatively dark, though there are hints at slightly more rising harmonic elements here too. The layers here blend together buzzing mid-range, wavering lower end, and simmering stretchers  which move from mid-to- ringing higher pitchers. There is very much a feeling to this track of something that’s slowly expanding & growing as if you are going further & further into a seemingly living cave network.

Next is “Orbit Of Memory”, and this feels a little bit more hopeful, glowing, and at times a little space bound. As Roach blends together this central stretching & circling mid-range swirl. With a selection of sub-tones which move from brightly teeming, gracefully drifting mids, to lushly sweeping string glides.

By track six “Rapt In Moonlight”, the pace & definition of the synth textures have quickened & firmed. As we get a selection of fairly rapid circulating slides, hovers & ebbs- as the track progresses these layers seem to build & build on each other until the point it becomes difficult to fully follow any one tone. And just when it feels it might almost take off,  Roach sudden pulls back the pace to a slower & slurred feeling of circulating & souring deep drifts of ambience.


The album is topped off with “ Phosephene View”- which leads on from the last track. At first it's drifting, then the tones start to stretch & pull themselves out into sudden tonal forkings,  electro fries, or glittering sparks. And all the while underneath this we get a slowly settling selection of slow descending drone sweeps, which in the end take over the sonic focus, as the track drifts out of view.


On the whole Painting In The Dark is an effective ambient journey- with Roach skilfully guiding the listener from brightness, into thick & subtle shifting darkness, and back again.

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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