Kreazot-Maks – 2066

GV Sound (GV-517), 2016

The ruin of civilization is familiar broken ground for dark ambient. 2066 examines near-future global ruin through the eyes of Maxim Maksymenko, a multi-talented artist from Belarus who records dark ambient experimental soundscapes under the name Kreazot-Maks. If his prediction is any indication, the world fifty years hence is not going to be an altogether pleasant place, and no city will escape the effects of the disintegration of society as we currently know it.

Right off the top, there are two details that make 2066 attractive from a conceptual standpoint. The first is that each of the twelve tracks is titled for a different global capital city: “Paris 2066,” “Cairo 2066,” and so on. The second enticing detail is that the tour of the world’s fall is over two hours in length. Nearly half of this is contained in two tracks, however, as stops in a shattered Washington D.C. and a smoke-choked Beijing each last close to half an hour, with a seventeen-minute layover in the burnt-out shell of Moscow not far behind.

Musically, Kreazot-Maks doesn’t deviate from the established tropes of dark ambient noise, but it’s the way in which the elements are arranged that make this album a superb example of the genre. 2066 doesn’t feature much, if any, keyboard chords or sequenced melody; it’s an album born purely from field recordings, samples, and processed noise. It’s beautifully ominous, and overflowing with creative audio production. The looped noise sample at the foreground of “Cairo 2066,” equal parts molded static and pitched distortion, is an example of the familiar-yet-alien sonic palette that the album is sheathed in. Amid the muffled thumps, crackling feedback, deep hums, and odd warbles are the remnants of human voices, drifting and fading through the electronic detritus that’s settled upon the destroyed husks of the world’s greatest cities. There’s a lot of dark ambient that favors mood over memorable sound, but the snatches of noise that haunt 2066 will stay with you. The warped mechanical howl that closes “Seoul 2066” is both chilling and mysterious, and I’m at a loss to identify its true source.

While a triumph in sound design, the album is also a genre success. Perhaps the strongest example of Maksymenko’s grasp of flow is “Washington 2066,” a longform drone piece that seems shorter than its twenty-five-minute running time; a surefire sign of high-level ambient. The embedded drone is wreathed in pitched feedback and phantom noise that curls around it like digital smoke. The track’s subtlety is a fine opposite to the slow thudding drums of “Tehran 2066” and the scraping industrial noise of “Lisbon 2066.” There’s plenty of variety from track to track, and the album moves from city to city without losing momentum, displaying the universal catastrophe without making it monotonous.

While Kreazot-Maks has crafted a post-apocalyptic vision that rivals Cities Last Broadcast and Brian Lustmord and Robert Rich’s trailblazing album Stalker, there’s one detail – or rather, lack of detail – that would have launched it over the top. There’s no real distinction between the identities of the wasted cities. Rome could have been Mexico City, and vice versa. With a concept that’s so globally based, some content marking the individual natures of each city would have been perfect. A couple of obvious examples would be lost vocal samples in a city’s native tongue or snatches of a national anthem, or more understated ones, like field recordings taken directly from a city or two themselves, would have strengthened the concept even more. As it stands, while 2066 is overflowing with dark ambient excellence, the lack of such elements seems like a missed opportunity.

Taken for what it is, however, 2066 remains an enduring testimony to the sounds of a collapsed civilization. Kreazot-Maks takes everything that makes dark ambient such an interesting genre – engaging synthetic atmosphere, gradually evolving tracks, adherence to concept – and generates a world that is equally effective technically and aesthetically. Brimming with creative and memorable passages, and rewarding repeat listens despite its length, 2066 is easily one of the most awe-inspiring dark ambient listening experiences I’ve had this year.

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Meho – Led Na Savi

Crna Zemlja (cz040), 2016

The border between immersion and noise is something I often ponder. An example of noise would be the hum of air conditioning, or the Doppler-esque sounds of traffic on the highway – comforting and soothing, perhaps, or else numbing, soporific, and monotonous. (I used to live right next a freeway, and used the noise it created to fall asleep – not exactly the kind of music one would aim to make, I’d think.) Ambient music often treads this line precariously; I’ve listened to many an album that do little more than mimic the background noise seeping into our modern mechanized lives. On the other side, there are albums that create a nice headspace to dwell in, but are a bit too directed, demanding a bit too much of one’s attention. Both styles of ambient can be excellent listening experiences, but you’ve got to be in a certain frame of mind to best appreciate them.

Then there are the rare albums that fall in between sense-deadening noise and technical distraction. In the last couple of years, I’ve found myself drawn to these types; they engage my brain from the background during the day, and they calm and lull me when I need to detach and recharge. Darkwater Pond from Circle of Pines is one of these. Kave’s Dismal Radiance is another. Perhaps my favorite example is Sleep Research Facility, but even Kevin Doherty’s wonderful mechanisms are sometimes a bit too, well, mechanical. My most recent discovery of twilit amorphous beauty is Led Na Savi, the latest work from the Croatian experimentalist Meho Grbić, who has released several works as Meho over the past couple of years via his Crna Zemlja netlabel.

Led Na Savi, which translates roughly as “bending ice,” is a perfect example of partially directed immersive ambient. Consisting of seven untitled tracks running roughly an hour and a quarter, the album is a minimal series of quiet-ish drones and gently rising waves of loops and samples, all expertly paced and pitched to slide just beneath the surface of one’s consciousness. The more I listened to it, the more I realized the album’s longform tendencies, but as the longest track is fifteen minutes, Grbić keeps his creations from becoming too static. Neither is Led Na Savi strictly “dark” ambient; Grbić takes a cue from Seetyca in this regard, but on this album, at least, keeps things more sedate.

“Untitled 2” is a windblown marvel, its crystalline loop aping the glorious arctic wastes of Northaunt, but Meho’s interpretation is even more stripped down, giving one’s mind more room to drift. A low drone slowly glides underneath, buoying the snowflake-delicate atmosphere with careful and easy momentum. There’s a bit of Kammarheit in the metallic samples of “Untitled 3,” but again, Meho wears its own skin, and doesn’t mimic that lauded project’s strong sense of desolation. Perhaps my favorite moment on Led Na Savi is “Untitled 5,” a majestic and serene fifteen-minute drift through a blanket of soothing fog. This track comes closest to losing the listener, as it’s quite bare-bones, but Grbić’s hand guides things just enough with near-imperceptible shifts and washes, all reduced to the edges of the buried drone of its foundation. The small pieces of noise scattered along the last two tracks change the focus from the drones, but never intrude too strongly into the half-aware state that the album generates from its opening moments. The shift of “Untitled 7” from a single tone of high-pitched feedback to a strange and sparse web of near-aquatic sounds is a particularly wonderful thing to hear unfold, and unlike some longform tracks, you don’t need to demonstrate extended patience to appreciate the process.

It’s not often that I come across an album like Led Na Savi, but it’s one to treasure and appreciate. Meho doesn’t do anything new from a technical or conceptual standpoint, and is clearly influenced by other projects, but it’s how Grbić establishes and maintains pacing and identity that gives his work such an intriguing aura. It’s neither too quiet nor too noisy, and just the perfect shade of welcoming gray. And it does this consistently, without falling prey to monotony. For enhancing one’s background or releasing one’s mental detritus, there are few albums I’ve heard in recent months that can fill both voids with equal aplomb as this one does. There’s a lot of netlabel static out there, but the low-key beauty, rare immersive quality, and natural flow of Led Na Savi are certainly worth your attention.