“Departures” – ‘Message To Bears’

This year’s musical-drought in June-July saw a record-low number of leaks on my old favourite sites, and despite the ramp-up of albums over the past month-or-so, I’ve been largely disappointed with a few and left in a constant state of epic-anticipation with others. We’ve also hit our first real Joint-Review hurdle in a while, and Michael Hodder – although coming up with some possible albums – has been left a little bewildered as to what to pick: just the same, anything I come across isn’t usually worth my mentioning. Just because there’s a ton of newbies on the scene doesn’t necessarily mean any of them are grand enough to be reviewed. Slim-pickings means albums of late haven’t stood the usual high-standard that we try to scoop-up and deliver, but overall, it’s down to your ears and your opinions, we’re just a third-wheel.

My over-critical nature on albums has left a bitter aftertaste on my reviewing technique, and its aftermath has left me at a point where I’m just too frustrated to look through the reems of sub-standard albums with poorly-labelled genres. That, and the growing workload that is August-September for us VCE-folk, makes life just a little more interesting. But enough of that…

This Friday sees me getting back to the old roots of ambience. I know it’s a little soon since ‘The American Dollar’, but with a surprising amount of daily-hits, not to mention a somewhat high-position in our overall-reviews, I’ll try my luck at “Departures”, perhaps one of the best examples of the emerging genre, soundscape; and ‘Message To Bears’ does deliver in more ways than one:

"Departures" - 'Message To Bears'

"Departures" - 'Message To Bears'

I talked in the “Ambient One” review about how ambience, or in this situation, soundscape, is a real eye-opening genre that is somewhat overrated, and mainstream-neglected. It’s easy to overlook because sometimes people just get too far lost in the lack of vocals, lyrics and lead-instrumentation. It is an acquired taste, so not all new-comers will have the ears accustomed to its style the first time round. I’ve had an ambient disposition for the better part of two-years, and although I haven’t had much experience in a wide-variety of it and soundscape, I really do prefer this music in comparison rock, alternative, and on the odd, sombre occasion, indie. Soundscape isn’t as versatile as, say, experimental, but it can take on influential elements like it just the same. If you look at rock, or indie, you’ll find that it’s hard to break away from the niche that the pioneers have set: ACDC, Franz Ferdinand and The Killers, because these are the ones that we love best.

Where “Ambient One” was really electric-influenced, in the sense that its samples were of synthetic-origin, “Departures” has this really honest, really intimate acoustic-nature, and it’s a refreshing change from the stereotypical-ambience which is heavily influenced by computer-samples or otherwise. And I know I’ve been juggling these two genres about a bit, but there’s not too much dissimilarity between soundscape and ambience – if you want to be nit-picky, I guess soundscape has this wholesome, layered-feeling to it, encompassing a broad spectrum of musical-capability. Conversely, ambience does just about the same, but it has this sharp, solitary-edge to it which makes it best listened-to alone. I find that although they are uncannily similar, soundscape has a great mixture of soft and loud, where I otherwise find that ambience is primarily focused on layers and effects.

Onto the album, “Departures” is one of those rare albums that fully-immerses its listeners and confines them into shoe-gazing position. And there we go again, shoegaze, soundscape, all affiliate-sub-genres, really, of ambience. Shoegaze is generally applied to rock/alternative/indie influenced music, so it’s like a sister genre to ambience. So, when I mean immerse, it’s just you and the music. The acoustic-nature of the album means you don’t get caught up in all this wavy synth. And whilst you might find the samples slightly-repetitive at times, or the songs just generally similar, its typical for this kind of music to make tracks indistinguishable from one and other.

I do criticise some albums for doing this, I suppose – too often than not. And that’s because they’ve tackled a genre like indie which really doesn’t need its tracks to have album-context, all it need do is have a substantial mix of epic plus standard and I’d be happy just the same. And I guess I really do go off at albums that don’t, because I see that they have the potential, it’s just finding the right way to flaunt it for everybody that they’re lacking.

The tracks themselves are masterpieces, each needing the other in a symbiotic-relationship that forms the basis for “Departures”. Multi-instrumentalist, ‘Jerome Alexander’ is a master unto himself, and is basically the sole musician behind each and every piece. By recording acoustic samples – repetitive-loops, riffs or otherwise – he is able to layer one over the other to form a unique and individual song. “Running Through Woodland” is what really struck a chord for me when I first listened to “Departures”, and sometimes – just sometimes – if a song is that good, when it’s over, it’s like saying goodbye to an old friend. And it was really like leaving a room-full, to be honest – and it’s the opening track. It really does emphasis the title ‘running through woodland’, because the urgency of the acou. riff peaks at its own instrumental-chorus. With each pick of the guitar, we feel the beat of a heart, or the fall of a foot. A violin gently sways to and fro, and this becomes the wind. With the inclusion of some oboe-like instrument – with possible synthetic-origins – the song builds and builds and builds until the finish. It is an abrupt beginning to the album, with a solemn finish that outlines the basis for the tracks to come. It is my favourite, and it oozes epic.

I’ll move on to the fourth track called “Hope”, and it is anything but. It’s a really dark, despondent, somewhat pessimistic track, and contrasts the urgent and alive atmosphere that “Running Through Woodland” had. At the minute mark, a solitary violin enters on the slowly waving double-bass, and soon they begin to strum in harmony. As the track progresses, this same slow, relaxing nature only peaks in sound, not speed. At the 2:30 mark, we finally see a definitive change in the track, and it’s where another violin appears, vibrating incessantly. It has the classic three-note-key shift. 1-2-3, down, 1-2-3, down, 1-2-3 down, key-change. Soon, all the strings begin to fight for pinnacle of the final chorus, and it is this section of the song which outlines the title: ‘hope’.

Finally, “Lost Birds” sees a change in this acoustic nature, with the solitary xylophone, and although the track is momentary, it is a slow and mournful end to an album with endless-lows and towering-highs. This lonely tap sounds that “Departures” has now finished.

“Departures” is another one of those potential-oozing-albums that has perspective-based pros and cons. On one hand, the album is about an hour – so it’s got good length – it has some great ambient music, and is a decent example. Despite this, some might find it slow, dull, and repetitive. It is really difficult to honestly give a rating, and I do enjoy listening to the album. Four seems appropriate, I don’t know why I won’t give it a five, but that’s just me.

Until when,

The Enantiomorphic God

~ by enantiomorphicgod on August 14, 2009.

2 Responses to ““Departures” – ‘Message To Bears’”

  1. […] Message to Bears […]

  2. […] For comparisons of ‘Stevens’, I would point listeners in the direction of artists like ‘Message To Bears’ or even ‘Eluvium’ – both heavily instrumental, both feature guitar as the […]

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