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.