Thermidor – 1929

Thisco Records (Thisk.46) / Brume Records (BRUME 17), 2007

Thermidor’s debut album, 1929, is full of creative quirk even before you play it.  In yet another example of why physical media still trumps digital for me, the album is housed in a slimline DVD case chock full of cool extra stuff.  The CD itself looks like a 45 rpm record.  There’s a booklet, two stickers, and a fake newspaper (the “Kingsport Clarion”) containing delightful fictional articles on Nikola Tesla, a lost Atlantic Ocean survey team, and a review of a live performance by a strange band called Thermidor whose shows cause ‘indignation and are plagued by [a] string of strange occurrences.’  There are even “fake” ads for real-life labels Brume Records (as “Brume Phonograph Recordings”), Thisco Records, and celebrated underground webzine Connexion Bizarre (here described as a “unique and indispensable resource on electrical aural stimulation”).  The whole thing smacks strongly of steampunk (sole band member Jorge Oliveira himself is depicted in period dress, complete with bowler hat and gas mask) and H.P. Lovecraft, and it’s all wonderfully tongue-in-cheek and self-referential; a nice change from the typical somber and serious personality projected by many dark ambient artists.

Oliveira’s actual music as Thermidor features the same creativity, but it’s far from silly.  He throws all kinds of sonic ingredients into the mix:  opera singers, string quartets, music boxes, space-mission voice samples, medieval chants, radio feedback, crickets, touch-tone phones, fax machines….it’s unusual, even for the genre, but it all comes together to produce a dark ambient album that’s one of the most intriguing and off-beat I’ve heard to date.  These sampled elements are woven together with drones, dramatic washes, and melancholic keys that keep things darkly grounded, but you never really know what Oliveira’s going to throw at you next.

The guy’s a talented songwriter, too.  There are twinkling bits of melody strewn throughout 1929, like bright jewels hidden on a black-sand beach, showing themselves briefly before darting beneath the drifting ambiance.  When the music becomes the focus, such as the empowering chords of “Plenum Aquae,” the intertwined synths hidden in “Oceanus,” or the whimsical lullaby-tune of “Sub Levare,” it’s apparent that the album bears the mark of a talented musician as well as a clever producer.

Nor are Oliveira’s dark ambient skills to be dismissed.  “Plenum Aquae,” “Ecclesiastes” and “Oceanus” – the longest tracks on 1929 – feature long passages of masterfully executed dark atmospherics.  Strange tones rise and fall, studded by the quirky flotsam floating throughout the album’s mix.  It’s as effective as any of the best established genre masters, but the difference with Thermidor is there’s more to the experience than just extended drones and encroaching darkness.

Beyond the six tracks proper, there are two excellent remixes by Empusae and Flint Glass, both of which add thunderous tribal percussion to Oliveira’s floating backdrops; these are two of the best remixers that dark electronic music has to offer, and neither disappoint.  Add an included data track containing a promotional video produced by Oliveira, and 1929 provides a hefty amount of quality content.

Some might not call 1929 “pure” dark ambient, and they’re right.  It’s still primarily a genre work, but the overall feel is quite removed from the genre’s established heavyweights.  Nonetheless, 1929 provides a quality listening experience that’s really unlike anything else I’ve heard in the genre.  I, for one, welcome Oliveira’s unconventional approach.  All of the supporting material, together with Thermidor’s slanted and experimental take on the genre, serves only to enhance the experience.  It’s not often when I can describe a dark ambient album as unique, but that term definitely applies to 1929.  Heartily recommended for those seeking a bit of bizarre with their darkness!

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