Tuesday, December 18, 2007

REVIEW: ROBERT DAVIES - Garden of Twilight

Garden of Twilight
dataObscura (2006)
10 tracks, 61:02

Grade: B

Robert Davies, whose album Sub Rosa landed on my best of 2006 list, turns his minimalist ambient eye on a landscape less melancholic (and melodic) on Garden of Twilight, a worthy follow-up but one that is (for me) more satisfying from an intellectual and aesthetic level than from an emotional one. That comment doesn’t mean this is a poor album, however. Davies works in much more subdued and subtle vein than he did on Sub Rosa. For ambientphiles who enjoy drifting minimalism with just a hint of melody among the washes, textures, drones and effects, Garden of Twilight will probably prove to be a garden of Delight.

“Among Exquisite Ruins” opens the album with layers of washes and warm drones, flowing over and under one another, some with a subtle resonating quality. “Iridescent Reflections” features those almost obscenely beautiful bell tones that I fell in love with on Sub Rosa and it also mirrors that release’s sad reflective melancholy, but with a hint of detachment. “The Ecstasy of Overgrown Sundials” blends male chorals (reminding me of early Kevin Kendle recordings, as odd as that association may appear) amidst swelling drones and delicate reverberating tones. “Hidden Colors Radiance” is anchored by what sounds like low register churning organ chords on top of which minimal synth tones lightly but only occasionally flit. Echoed piano features prominently on “Ambrosial Tapestry” but a lack of warmth somewhat undercuts the emotional impact of the track, perhaps due to how the piano sounds or the relative plainness of the background electronic textures. Drone-lovers will probably love “Entangled in Lush Green” with its drone accentuated by subtle bubby electronics and ultra-minimal tones. I didn’t much care for the stark unwavering “Sunken Garden” which epitomizes what I don’t usually care for in drone-based music, i.e. just not enough to connect with on a human level. Better is the album closing ten-minute “Beneath Strange Stars” which blends layers of flowing ambient drones with other electronic instrumentation, yielding a flowing dark (but not scary) spaciness with a palpable but pleasant sensation of mystery which I’ll bet is perfect for stargazing.

Despite my not connecting (on a personal level) with Garden of Twilight, I still recommend the CD, provided that you don’t need as much melody or warmth as was present on Davies’ Sub Rosa. In some ways, Garden of Twilight is a “purer” ambient album because it calls attention to itself much less frequently than Sub Rosa did. The only problem is that it also can flow by unnoticed for stretches at a time so that it’s only selected moments that stand out (such as “Iridescent Reflections”). Davis already has several newer albums out (I’m late with this review) and I’m curious if he has gone back to his Sub Rosa ways or has instead followed down this particular path instead. That will be revealed in a future review, I imagine. In the meantime, I recommend the album if it fits your taste as it’s certainly a very good example of this type of ambient music.

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