Ultimae Records (inre055), 2012
When I consider trance, I think about concepts like flow. And when I think about ambient, I think about mood. By the same token, downtempo brings to mind relaxation. Admittedly, I don’t listen to a lot of music in these respective genres, but when the chill-out, unwind mood strikes, but I don’t want to necessarily fall asleep, I reach for Pollen, Aes Dana’s sublime marriage of these three ideas.
Aes Dana is the flagship project of Vincent Villuis, co-owner of the famed French label Ultimae Records. Ultimae is noted for its consistently high-quality releases and attention to fans and supporters (they often send sticks of incense with mail orders), and while a good deal of what I’ve heard from the discography isn’t quite edgy enough for my tastes, Pollen is an exception. Aes Dana’s past work stuck too closely to the repetition of trance for me; while I certainly hear trance’s merit, I like my beats to have some variety and extra life. Pollen is heavily beat-based – moreso than most Ultimae material I’ve encountered – but Villuis changes the tempo often enough to keep the inertia high without becoming dull. “Borderline” is a great example of what I’m talking about; the tempo isn’t strictly 4/4, but there’s enough of that dancefloor staple to retain energy. Villuis then drapes his erratic-yet-satisfying beatwork with lovely synth waves and looped samples, never letting things become too airy nor too dark. To my relatively uneducated ear, this is a magnificent experiment in fusing genre, and resulting in something cohesive yet always shifting.
Pollen keeps the concept strong as the album progresses. “Conditioned” and “Tree.Some” lean a bit heavier on 4/4 trance, but the keys and pads make the mood relaxed rather than manic, with snatches of melody wrapping themselves around the energetic core with gossamer wisps. “A Carmine Day” adds a classic EBM bass synth to the formula; this is perhaps the most driving track on the album.
Villuis has become too clever to rely on this formula, however. Tracks like “Jetlag Corporation” and “101 Clouds” eschew the trance structure for off-tempo rhythms, bringing the delicate keyboard work to the forefront. Pollen isn’t overwhelming or dense, but nor does it float; if it’s the music of rain and cloud, the weather here is made of finely crafted intertwining threads of steel wire – delicate yet unbreakable. “Riven” oozes with cinematic flair; its atmospherics alternately soar and dive, while a network of clicks keeps things anchored. Likewise, “The Meeting Point” is full of sly energy, slouching assuredly through a neon-soaked crowd. Pollen closes with the eleven-minute “Low Tide Explorations”, opening with a largely ambient mixture of beach sounds (of course), and wandering keys before an urban-ish drone and off-set percussion flares in and out.
Pollen isn’t an album I play often, but it fits a certain mood as perfectly as any other. For that, as well as its wonderfully satisfying combination of relaxed mood and quiet motion, it’ll always be a part of my permanent rotation. It’s a release of an exhale rather than the tension of dark frantic catharsis. I have a great deal of respect for Ultimae Records, and while I certainly wouldn’t call myself a diehard fan by any means, it’s albums like Pollen that keeps the label on my radar.