Alex Barnett and Faith Coloccia are both distinguished members of the experimental ambient music scene, and have already proved that they are a force to be reckoned with when they collaborate. The duo has previously released two intriguing records of experimental, drone goodness in their debut record Retrieval and their sophomore full-length Weld. What was striking about the collaborations of Barnett and Coloccia was their approach to designing completely immersive atmospherics, something that carries on with their newest work VLF (standing for Very Low Frequencies.) In a nutshell, the new work is an unearthly cinematic take that depicts strange alien realms that appear somehow familiar.
It is in big part the approach that the duo takes to building a cohesive collage of sounds, creating both stunning sceneries, but also off-kilter progressions for their explorations. The duo makes use of everything in their disposal to bring forth this rich experience, from static noise to synthesizers, and from audio effects to vocal samples. All these aspects are used for the sole purpose of crafting a fluid and unconventional narrative. And it is a series of strange and bizarre stories that Barnett and Coloccia are presenting, being realized through these strange means. And, it is within these strange combinations that VLF shines.
Despite the almost avant-garde aspect of this record, Barnett and Coloccia still follow certain norms. VLF features a strong sense of progression, built again around an unconventional motif. The heartbeat-like sample in opener “Fountain of Youth” is such a technique, providing the anchor for the track. Still, the duo do not always take the experimental route with regard to the tempo. “Green Woman” for instance reveals the industrial heritage of the two artists, with the main sample taking on a monotonous rendition, verging on militaristic repetition. “Copperworks” takes this a step further and sees the duo exploring an old-school electronic music paradigm, aided by the use of the retro synths that provide a playfulness to the mix.
What makes this process sweeter and pushes it at times towards a conventional end is the use of guitar and more traditional instrumentation. Even though this is sparsely presented and is spread out throughout the record, when it appears it provides a nice break from the synthetic quality of VLF. The guitar lines in the opening track act a drop from the reality of the alien landscape, while the semi-choral vocals breathe in a touch of humanity. Similarly, the main melodies of the guitar in “Bachelor’s Grove” awaken a haunting quality from the track, as Barnett and Coloccia build the whole track’s ambiance around them.
However, where the two artists really shine is when they move to their familiar experimental approach. The introduction of noise in this case is spot on, being able to create these sonic breaches from the static progression and rip holes in the cinematic ambiance of the record. “Confession” features this approach, with the noise able to mutate the theme of the track and infuse it with a layer of volatility. Yet, it is not only the noise that is able to bring about that effect, with the duo delivering some impressive moments of sound design. Mutilating and stitching synth sounds in “Bachelor’s Grove” provides an introduction to this notion, which is able to produce some surrealistic overtures, as is the case with “Green Woman”. And it is in this mode that Barnett and Coloccia revel, especially when it becomes the primary aspect of their music. “Rain In Bilbao” sees the notions of progression and melody taking a backseat while the duo works with feedback and noise elements alongside piercing synths and faraway vocals to push VLF over the edge. “Ill Will” is another instance that sees this extravagant approach reach further highs and take on a more minimal and much darker manifestation.
Through this array of themes and techniques, Barnett and Coloccia produce an expected result. Considering their background and their previous releases the duo does not disappoint and dives head first into this fantastical, minimal ambient domain. And as always the two artists perform this task with the same sense of thirst for outdoing themselves.
8.0 / 10
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