Hymen Records (Y767), 2008
Completely abandoning the manic percussive programming that dominates most of its discography, Night Falls is a curious entry by Ben Lukas Boysen’s Hecq project. Displaying an emotional aspect not readily apparent on other releases, Night Falls is the product of a musician and composer who bypasses the previous IDM/technoid influences of prior albums to create a soundtrack of symphonic melancholy that delves into many genres, and moves into places beyond. Night Falls is electronic, but it’s largely beatless. It’s dark, but not dark ambient. It’s ambient, but not floating and wistful. At its core, it is nothing less than deeply affecting, profoundly moving music.
There’s a strong emphasis on melody throughout the album. “Night Falls” shifts through chords of synthetic strings in a very prelude-like fashion. “Never Leave” takes a lightly distorted bass hum and surrounds it with keyboards soaked in drama. It’s beautiful, even uplifting, but tinged with loss and regret, a mournful dirge of symphonic ambiance.
“Dis” and its companion “Dis (Reverberation)” are the only tracks that could be considered true dark ambient. Structured around drawn-out drones and grand synth passes spattered with electronic fidgeting and buzzing, it’s admittedly a bit of an odd fit when settled among the interlaced chords and introspection dominating the rest of the album. Still, the way “Dis” starts and stops, drowning us in its murk and drawing us out, along with the unsettling high-pitched strings of its brother, makes one wonder what Boysen might be capable of if he embraced this style throughout an entire album on its own merits.
The grace returns with “Bending Time,” a minimal piano ode that could have come from Harold Budd, but Boysen adds electronic space and angles to give it a modern cinematic slant. “Aback” (as in “taken”, I assume) is Night Falls’ most haunting entry, with a stirring and somber vocal melody looped through a network of low strings, static, and tympani. It’s the sound of a woman or child sitting alone by candlelight, giving voice to emotion that cannot be expressed any other way.
The portentous melancholy returns on “Come Home”, as the keys rise and fall between strings and horns, and the ambient sounds of a train gives the track distinctive character. Coming home, indeed. “Giants” is as sprawling as the title suggests, with distant flutters, drama-soaked washes, and deep bass drums, but Boysen keeps enough emotion in play to keep the track from gaining the dark ambient edge so prevalent on “Dis.” “Magnetism” has more Budd-inspired minimal keyboard work; I get the impression the magnetism examined here is the one that sometime exists between people; inexplicable, mysterious, and subtle. “Red Sky” is a bit more uplifting, with pitched synthetic voices rising, one assumes, into the crimson atmosphere. It’s stirring, certainly, and just a little bit disturbing. Flutes and pipes wind over a bass drone on “Above”; if we knew Night Falls was narrative (and it very well might be), we would be soaring through the red-tinted clouds as the sun rose, the planet sprawling beneath us in all its glory and tragedy.
Night Falls closes with the nine-minute hymn “I Am You”, which brings the album back to the chord-shifting keys of the title track, but here, they’re expanded and enhanced, with whispering percussion. The track rises to a crescendo halfway in, combining all the elements heard throughout Night Falls; it’s a perfect summary to what we’ve just experienced. Everything falls away then, leaving us drifting on a distant bed of delicate noise until silence returns.
I’ve heard the term “modern classical” bantered about here and there, but was never really sure what it meant. Perhaps it’s a case of knowing it when you hear it, and I think I’ve found a prime example of it with Hecq’s Night Falls. It’s built around music rather than around effect, and uses, well, classic elements through electronic means. Boysen has gone on to record film soundtracks (while returning to his IDM ways on subsequent albums, by the way), which doesn’t surprise me in the slightest; the music here is indeed a soundtrack, though to a film that exists only in his head, and the head of the listener. Complex enough to avoid being disposable, but graceful enough to remain memorable, Night Falls is the product of a versatile and talented musician who understands the intricacies of being human.