Ostroga Records (OTR-069), 2016
It’s one thing to put together a successful ambient album. It’s quite another to tap into the mind of the listener, to make him or her forget that they’re listening, and provide a doorway into a synthetic mode of consciousness. I have often thought that the best ambient albums are those that provide not just an unexpected technical experience, but a form of mental escapism that walks a fine line between subtle guidance and allowing enough freedom for the listener to collaborate on the creation of something beyond just the sounds. Inspired by the ambiance, the listener molds an imaginary world; a unique imaginary state that can be revisited time and again, sometimes with different results.
Solar Mycelium is among the rare breed of ambient works that achieves both states. Lefterna (Boban Ristevski) and Vitaly Maklakov have fused minimal electronic drone and field recording into an exploration of the unseen world that flows all around us. The album begins with “Fairy Rings,” in which a gentle bed of static buoys a series of quiet metallic creaks and scrapes. As the track progresses, you can feel the heat of summer rising from the ground, and the sounds shift into the noise of insects on a heavy, lazy, dream-invoking afternoon. There’s just enough evolution to keep the track from becoming mechanical, which is vital in an organic framework such as this.
“Cradle of the Information Snare” is a tad heavier and darker, with odd sampled warbles replacing the field recording, but the drowsy hypnotic effect is the same. Much similar ambient music that leans on such a minimal structure often fades into the background, and the bond between mood and listener dissolves. Not here.
The final two tracks show Ristevski and Maklakov indulging their deep-listening and longform muses, and over the thirty-one combined minutes, Solar Mycelium reaches its surreal peak. The title track is thick with strangeness despite its simple structure; it’s easy to imagine the air about you dotted with invisible fairies flitting and darting about, but this is no wispy aria. The odd buzzes and tiny buried whines ground the track and shroud it in hazy mystery, with a tinge of shadow tracing the edges. It’s a haunting piece of work that displays a delicate balance of its components without losing sight of the overall structure. At nineteen and a half minutes, “Fluorescent Landscape” is the album’s longest, and while the distortion is enhanced, the aesthetic is the same. It’s not quite as trance-inducing as the previous track, as its sonic range is wider, but the patterns of hidden static pops keep the immersion high for its duration.
Albums in the mold of Solar Mycelium are easy to come by these days, but precious few walk the tightrope between overbearing and inconsequential as surely as this one does. Deftly placed between active collaboration and consuming escapism, this unusual album nails the elusive state sought by so many similar artists. Maklakov and Ristevski might not blow your ears away with studio trickery, but that’s not their goal. For a strikingly creative minimal ambient experience that gently treads the waters of the deep subconscious, I haven’t heard an album all year that equals the strangely mythical poise of this one.