The old truism about an artist’s first album embodying his entire life’s musical quest up to that point certainly holds for this first effort from åpne sinn (Geoff Small). Espiritista (Relaxed Machinery 0015) explores a fine range of styles, weaving a rich tapestry out of its numerous, eclectic influences. I think this album will please listeners from all corners of the ambient/electronic music world.
The word “espiritista” is Spanish for “spiritist”, or spiritual healer. Such a healer’s work is to help one, by introspection, to understand and come to terms with one’s inner demons, to heal psychic/emotional conflicts. As an album title, the word nicely embodies the album’s modus operandi as a dynamic, riveting interplay between shadow and light, surface and substance.
The album’s ten tracks are evenly divided between pure atmospherics and rhythmic gung-ho. While the atmospheric pieces employ just a few elements, the rhythmic ones have materials piled on – but the music is never crowded. It’s just clear that the artist is having a lot of fun trying out and weaving in more ideas, and he does well to maintain balance.
The title track sets the stage with heavily-processed voices and an industrial atmosphere. Ethereal chord visitations fill the space with pulsing energy and light. Remcycle (which also appears on the new Relaxed Machinery sleepMODE compilation) evokes a stormcloud and machines, setting a darkening atmosphere. Mechanical tones swell and fade, intruding on our stasis – a disturbing, unsettling dream. This piece makes for a challenging and rewarding journey, and promises deep rewards for repeat plays.
Among the rhythmic tracks, standout elements include the ghostly choir atmosphere and bouncy synth-clavinet of Advaita; Twinewheel, with its glassy echoed marimba-like rhythm and vaguely African feel; and the stuttering, hollow techno-like synth chord voicing of Lucky Enough, which sets up a very cool rhythmic impulse.
My favorite tracks happen to be the atmospheric ones. The short interlude A White Space definitely left me wanting more, its visceral sound setting a solemn, Dead Can Dance-like mood. It’s followed by the mystic Tabula Rasa, seeking without and delving within. Deep space is out there and within, looping and spiraling deeper inside, letting the past fall away.
Freefall has a cool flying feel, with flute-like lines flying off into space and other sounds dropping away. Don’t look down – the horizon is where it’s at. The solid drone doesn’t feel static; this piece really makes you feel like you’re flying. Slowdive is similar, but underwater this time – a chugging but unhurried pace suggesting descent and exploration. Two chords is enough for this expedition. This would be well-placed in an IMAX deep-diving film.
My favorite, however, is saved for last. Arclight, the album’s closer and longest piece, is most aptly-titled, with singing, torch-lit synth chords slicing through the dark. It’s perfectly paced, with no hurry for anything, ethereal atmospherics and chimes, and perfect pauses between phrases. Just the right touch of clattering percussion keeps us grounded.
The album’s artwork, by artist and photographer Kati Astraeir, perfectly captures the electricity and excitement of the music, which simmers and erupts by turns.
On Espiritista, åpne sinn explores enough diverse musical territory to inform at least a handful of albums. Let’s hope that we get to hear those albums in due course.