Cyclic Law (58th Cycle), 2013
This is an album full of ghosts. Not menacing or hateful specters, mind you, but spirits wracked with sadness and regret. It’s as if BSE (Jonas Aneheim, K. Meizter) have accessed the sorrowful realm between life and death and snatched bits and pieces of these lost souls directly, and given them shape. Or, perhaps more accurately, given them new voice.
Faint is dark, yes, but it’s not the deep black of many of its kin; its darkness comes from the longing and introspective reflection so prevalent in its sound. Not the lightless gulfs of deepest space or the lowest caverns, but darkness seen through a gauzy haze; the fading light of a gray day filtered through stirring curtains. BSE doesn’t consign itself to merely giving us a sonic window into grief, but manages to imbue the album with just enough hope and light to convey the sense that the souls heard here are on their way (slowly, slowly) to a better and lighter place. Faint is the essence of ephemeral despair; conveying the idea that nothing is ever completely hopeless.
Take “Yearning,” for example. The echoing whispers at the core of the track are rife with desire, desire for something precious that has been forever lost. The minimal chords, strangely aquatic loops, distant strings, and gentle rhythms are a formula for regret indeed, but BSE lets enough light into the mood to keep the shadows at bay – visible, mind you, but right at the edge of awareness. Like many of the voices here, language isn’t English (why should it be? the dead are international), but the emotion is clear; sadness needs no translation.
The plaintive piano of “Blank” provides solace for the fragmented and buried whispers, but the tone shifts midway, as deep drones of a more ominous sort emerge to remind us that the dark is rising. BSE doesn’t indulge, however, and the piano’s return shifts the brightness (tinted) back into focus, and the mutterings seem more hopeful as the track ends.
Each of Faint’s eleven tracks seem to tell a different tale, but Aneheim and Meizter have a strong sense of aesthetic proficiency to keep the sound cohesive. The half-asleep murmured “one, two, three” of “Bystanders” (the captured voices here all seem to be bystanders) is all we are given for reference, but the spatial keyboards turn the track into a slow-motion somnolent waltz. Whoever haunts “Sleepwalking” must have met his and her end outside, as we can hear birds behind the cloudy keys. “Stale” is particularly potent, with the rambling of a sobbing woman sliding through drifting piano chords. “Legacy” holds perhaps the darkest moments, as dreary drones soar and crumble while snatches of sampled speech speckle the track like cold rain, but it is deftly juxtaposed with the lovely and almost-soothing air of “Stumble”, which is broken only by a series of bangings, akin to someone knocking on a door (or a coffin), but the sharpness smacks of a desperate need to be heard rather than being threatening.
The filtered piano of “Exhausted” seems to be the track’s captured spirit, rather than a human voice, but the emotion is strong nonetheless. Then we have “Astray,” Faint’s longest track, which is a mist-shrouded journey accompanied by sparse keys, chimes, and subtle guitar. Someone loved this place, and loved it dearly, but this love is all that remains now. We are witnesses to the story that the sampled voices wish it could tell us, and BSE has tried to fill in the remainder. The humanity of “Islanders” is barely audible, but it’s definitely there, pushing against the eerily soaring atmospherics.
Faint is a different kind of dark ambient beast. It stays grounded, and human, with rare organic sensibility. It is haunting without being creepy. Its sense of presence is so strong, you can almost feel it settle on your skin. Faint gives us a glimpse into the afterlife, and shows us that it’s not such a bad thing after all; it’s a place of sadness, yes, but also a place of rest. In showing us this, it might give our own lives new meaning before we fade away ourselves. Death is not the end of life, but an integral part of it. Beyond Sensory Experience, indeed.