Label: Sonic Pieces
I won’t lie, I like my ambient music to be of a certain stripe. For me, the genre is most ideal for that unnamed twilight comedown of lying on a bed in the late evening, staring at the ceiling, and feeling unspeakable emotions race through one's heart and head. Bands like Hammock effortlessly evoke a mental snapshot of endless winter fields of dead, withered grass, stretched away under gray skies beside grayer Interstate highways; the music itself is mournful, forlorn, somber, subtle, overwhelming, and a bit heartbreaking. That’s how I like my ambient music. It’s that old cliché of a score for a film not yet written, the film of the listener's life. Perhaps no other genre makes one feel more like every moment is a crucial one, a crystallized melodramatic pause to consider weighty, life-changing turning points of stunning magnitude. Good ambient music makes the audience the star of its own soap opera.
Greg Haines’ music is not subtle. The Berliner’s twisted new-classical compositions are all Sturm und Drang: shrieking violins, deathly funereal organ, and haunted banshee wailing, the darkest expression of instrumental music this side of Constellation Records. Until the Point of Hushed Support is no Brian Eno affair; call it “Ambient #5: Music for Gulags.” While there are moments of stark, Stars of the Lid beauty, such as the restless feedback loops and rustling static of “In the Event of a Sudden Loss,” mostly this album is pretty bleak, Godspeed-style Gothic pomp. The aptly-titled “Marc’s Descent” could be a veritable descent into Dante’s Seven Layers, while the hushed quiet of opener “Industry Vs. Inferiority” masks a strange, eerie tug of foreboding like a dread undercurrent throughout. The only redemption from the disorienting siren voices and soul-crushing keys here comes in closer “Until the Point of Least Resistance," which carries an almost willfully defiant air of stubborn, beautiful, fragile hope. Still, it’s the hope of unsure survivors wandering dazed about the wreckage of a nuclear Holocaust or city-leveling tidal wave, everyone blinking at each other or gazing horizon-ward, more frightened and confused than ever, wondering what comes next, after the horror has subsided.
That is how Mr. Haines’ latest opus leaves one feeling on the first, even second and third listens: bewildered, lost, and a little scared. Until the Hushed Point is an exhausting, hard-won emotional experience, not without rewards, but definitely not a feel good album of soul-searching reflection in one's bedroom late at night. This is not pedestrian paint-by-numbers ambient, this is tragedy music, the moment when the doctor says, “We did all we could” in the fluorescent-washed hospital waiting room, the knock on the door and splash of police light-bars against the bedroom walls at 2 A.M., the down-cast eyes of a lover who says, “We need to talk.” This music is a soundtrack to those darkest of moments, never cheery listening, but certainly meriting a place there in some black corner of one's collection for when its malign comfort is needed. This album should perhaps come with a sticker reading IN CASE OF EMERGENCY OR DEVESTATING EVENT, BREAK GLASS, INSERT DISC, AND PLUG IN HEADPHONES.
And from that perspective, this album is without a doubt an unqualified, riveting, devastating masterpiece, powerful, affirming, and harrowing all at once. Who says all great music needed to make us tap our feet to the beat and smile, anyway?
Review from The Silent Ballet