Monday, January 14, 2008

REVIEW: TOR LUNDVALL - The Seasons Unfold Sampler

The Seasons Unfold Sampler
Strange Fortune
4 tracks: 15:25
Grade: B+

As sometimes happens, trust me to be late to the party on yet another critically acclaimed ambient artist. Tor Lundvall (and his CD Empty City) has been mentioned (and praised) numerous times on internet venues such as and The Hypnos Forum with people waxing eloquently about his “ghost ambient” soundscapes. Sadly, I let the term “ghost” color my preconceptions and, as a result, I turned a deaf ear/eye, mistaking the term “ghost” to mean “Here’s another drab and dreary drone-o-phile.” The last thing I wanted to hear was more “music to substitute for a fan playing.” Imagine my surprise (more like shock actually), when this four-song promotional sampler arrived in the mail (it’s free, by the way, when you purchase anything at Strange Fortune ) and I discovered a subtle yet undoubtedly melodic ambient strain of minimalism, colored in pale pastels, evoking empty streets late at night, yet not in an overly melancholic way, but still deeply evocative and intensely intimate.

The four tracks are described as “Selections and alternate versions from the forthcoming 4-CD [4-CD???!!!] set The Seasons Unfold.” Based on what I’ve heard, Tor Lundvall just may be able to pull off something as audacious as a four-CD album! If this sampler is an indication of what awaits fans of low-key, forlorn but “pretty” soundscapes, they’re gonna get their money’s worth, I’d imagine.

Running about fifteen minutes, you’d be surprised at the variety of the music here (well, variety considering everything is more or less in the same vein). “Whir (mix #2)” opens things up with a repeated musical phrase on piano played off against reverbed bell tones that echo off in the distance alongside a pleasing clicking percussive effect (perfectly sublimated to the background). “29” is a vocal track, but the vocals are just as much ambient in nature as the music, although not because they are wordless (there are actual lyrics) but the haunting nature of (I would imagine it’s Lundvall’s) the voice fits in perfectly with the repeated pattern of gentle synth notes and delicate minimal bells. A softly pealing electric guitar adds an extra element of subtle sadness. If this track doesn’t bring to mind walks alone in the fading light of an autumn day, you have no imagination! “The Backyard” has a slight sense of the same kind of glitch that I heard on both Marconi Union’s Distance as well as Ben Swire’s Equilibrium, but draped in a slow sad sense of reflection with almost no kinetic movement forward. Once again there are some heavenly muted vocals (sure sounding like Neil Tennant at times!) that, instead of detracting from the mood, actually elevates it! Amazing! Finishing off this EP is “November’s Fields” which is the most brooding piece here, yet still absolutely “musical” in nature. What sounds like an echoed triangle note is panned between channels while the center channel flows with a blend of sparse melodic repetitions and very subtle bass rhythms. I was slightly reminded of one or two tracks from SAW II, but to be honest, since this clocked in at only 4:03, it didn’t wear out its welcome like some of those long cuts on SAW II do.

So, count me as those in line with bated breath and sweaty palms until The Seasons Unfold is released. Hopefully, the promise of this teaser of a sampler will be fulfilled. If it is, that 4-CD set may wind up being on a lot of Ambient Album of the Year lists!

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