Places Beyond: The Lost Pieces 4
by Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire
Rather than dissect the origins of this fine selection of music from Steve Roach (if you're interested, the liner notes goes into vast detail about how/why these qualify as "lost" pieces of music), I'll stick to critiquing this album (especially since my time is so short what with my impending leave of absence). From that standpoint, i.e. the merits of this CD, I can sum it up by saying this would make a great place to start if you have only recently discovered Steve Roach or are unfamiliar with his more recent work (for example, if all you own is DREAMTIME RETURN, DESERT SOLITAIRE, or STORMWARNING). PLACES BEYOND: THE LOST PIECES 4 clearly illustrates how Roach has evolved into the proverbial multi-headed hydra of ambient and electronic music, capable of producing solid work in any one of several subgenres. Completists (you know the type, they have at between ten to twenty Roach albums already) should be forewarned that, while the music on this recording is uniformly excellent, nothing is so dramatically different that it will jolt the synapses of your brain. That notwithstanding, PLACES BEYOND is a damn tasty melange of both floating and beat-driven ambient/electronic music.
"Distant Signals" starts things off with a slice of serene drifting spacemusic, as gentle washes of warm reverberations cruise effortlessly, sometimes ensconced in a soothing layer of subtly retro keyboards (a'la Michael Stearns, but less dramatic). "Trancefusion" visits the throbbing cyber-organic beats of fractal beat EM that Roach explored with Vir Unis on Blood Machine. I particularly like the integration of pleasantly eerie swirling tones that encircle the percolating rhythms, as well the occasional "thump" of a bass note, as if a single cybernetic neuron was firing at random. "Serpent's Birth," another fractal groove piece, manages to instill an earthy sensuality amidst the electronic pulses and crackling textures, probably through the use of percussion that combines fractalism with a quasi-tribal quality. This song gathers a head of steam and cooks up a storm of frenetic energy by the midpoint, only to unwind like an uncoiling serpent of the song's title by the conclusion. All you need to know about "Resolution Point" is how it reminds me of Soma which is one of my favorite ethno-tribal/ambient recordings of all time (also, Byron Metcalf contributes some sound sources to this cut, which should be endorsement enough).
That's details on the first half of the CD, folks. There are four more tracks here, including "Slow Rapture" which will thrill Roach's drone-fans, although I find Steve's other subgenres much more intriguing personally. "Contained... Sustained" while superficially drone-related, is more of a classic spacemusic piece than a pure drone, with its enveloping waves of warm electronic bliss.
Anyway, there ya have it. Steve Roach certainly doesn't need endorsement from me or anyone else at this stage in his career, so you can just imagine how good I consider this album is or I wouldn't even bother reviewing it. By that I mean, most people know how proficient and talented this guy is, so my adding my voice to the chorus underlines how terrific one of his albums must be, and trust me, it is. Again, if you've got most of his output, this may (or may not) be redundant; but if you've only got a handful of this man's work, don't "lose" these pieces!