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Steve Brand, Avatara

October 11, 2011

In just four notes, Steve Brand effectively sets the tone for his new release, Avatara. Within this one phrase at the beginning of the title track there is a sense of mystery, of revelations to come, of the curtain being pulled back as Brand opens his exploration of the persistence of the presence of the Avatar–the earthbound manifestation of deity–throughout cultures. For this portrait Brand chooses big, expansive synth pads that hang in the air and slowly fade for a classic ambient sound. At the same time there’s intimacy in the details. Brand is skilled at pulling the listener close to isolate the effect of small moments before releasing them back to see the bigger picture again. Brand’s timing is also impeccable; in “Morning Glory” he lets his drifts quiet to silence or near-silence, then suspends the moment before the next note, giving that stretch of time an air of contemplation and expectation. When that next note does arrive, it’s like an awaited, cleansing exhalation. Even when his constructs are at their biggest, they remain delicate to the touch. In the spacemusic-flavored track “Still Here (Breathing Space),” windchimes add an earthy accent to whispering electronic winds. The bold chords that form “Act of Creation” rear up to make themselves known, but then blend together readily on the way back down. There is power, and there is peace, side by side. Expertly, Brand revisits those first four mysterious notes in the closing track, “Avatara (Deathless),” and the listener understands that the story has come around to its conclusion. This also lets the disc seamlessly take hold of its own tail and begin again.

Avatara is a deeply immersive disc, a warm and vast blanket of meditative sound that’s a pleasure in which to find yourself enveloped. Repeat listening is a must, and the piece is ideal for low-volume play.

Available from Hypnos.

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