by Richard di Santo, Incursion
Ambient master Steve Roach returns with EARLY MAN, a double CD on Sam Rosenthal's Projekt label. The first disc is a reissue of a limited run CD released earlier last year, and the second disc, "Early Man Decomposed", is, as one might expect from its title, a reworking of the original material plus new sound elements recorded around the same time. With over 70 minutes of compelling music on each disc, you can't go wrong with this release if you're looking for a strong mix of (more or less) traditional ethno-ambient grooves and atmospheres.
As the title suggests, the theme here is prehistoric man; the track titles conjure motifs of a primitive life ("Hunting & Gathering", etc.) and archaeology ("Carbondate", etc.). Roach keeps things organic and flowing on this release: the bass runs deep and moves around like a current of water following a winding path; drums, electronic incursions, and most of all drifting echoes and dissonance form the basis for these long and compelling ethno-ambient works. The finest moments on both discs are when Roach emphasises more natural rhythms and deep currents, like the flow of water coupled with a deep bass rumbling, suggesting not only what resides in the outside world but also what lies in the darker elements of the subterranean. There are also more electronic rhythms than one might expect here ("Elemental" and "Hunting & Gathering", for example, have more in common with Pete Namlook's vision of ambient). There also seems to be a shift in emphasis between discs one and two; the first is driven more by rhythms than ambiance, and the second shifts the balance the other way, with priority being given to drifting echoes and lingering traces of sound.
One thing that we can always count on from Steve Roach is his commitment to creating rich sonic environments, best listened to at high volumes, created by a dense layering of details and undercurrents. EARLY MAN is no exception, and, though it may not stir things up in terms of conventions in ambient music, it succeeds in capturing both our attention and our imaginations.