Loren Nerell & A Produce, Intangible

Regrettably, Loren Nerell and A Produce’s magnificent collaboration Intangible is, barring existing unreleased material, the last offering from A Produce (aka Barry Craig). Craig unfortunately passed away in September, not long after this disc was released. Aside from Craig’s too-soon departure at 59, the other genuinely sad aspect of this is that Intangible marked the return of an absolute powerhouse talent in the ambient world and what, from the first listen, promised to be an amazing pairing of veteran ambient talents. Craig, who had been a solid presence in the ambient genre the 80s and early 90s (going as far back as cassette releases) had been away from producing music for a number of years. More tragic, then, that his brief return is marked by what is most surely going to be recognized across the board as one of the best releases of 2011. This is not sentimentality; from its first note, Intangible sets off on a complete, compelling arc of music that courses smoothly from rhythmic ambient to world-beat hybrids to dark reflections and out again. From the pleasingly catchy bounce of the title track, the duo slide into the comparative density of “Planet Atmo”–and this track has plenty of atmo. Mechnical and dark, with an air of absolute suspense. Nerell’s background in gamelan and Balinese music leaps to the foreground for the next two tracks as the rhythms storm back in. This is a pure groove beginning with “String Theory.” Over sharp percussion, Nerell’s chimes ring out with crystalline clarity. Flutes, or their digital counterparts, dance across this platform of sound. Synth winds rise like dust storms. A truly captivating piece that gets the pulse charging. “Area 51.1” (great title!) slows the pace, but keeps the exotic feel with a twangy bass line over sensual sound-washes. This one gets in and drills deep. You’ll feel it the whole way. Craig and Nerell touch perfectly on dark ambient with the isolated rasps of “Lost in Transformation.” There’s a sensible, organic bridge between “Area 51.1” and this piece; the transition is as smooth as it gets. The beats are left behind. Garbled voices rise from muddy drones and clanging gongs and chimes. Unsettling by design, this is a 10-minute immersion in borderline unpleasantry. And it works. They recover–or help you recover, anyway–with two final perfect ambient pieces. “Meadow Dust” shimmers from the outset. Cool pads take flight on easy hand percussion. You’ve made it out of the last track, and it’s going to be okay. This is a spirit-soars kind of track, with high, softened notes giving it a voice. “Pot Covers At Dawn” closes the disc like a whispered prayer. Beats sneak in under the flow to ground the passing moments.

What strikes me about Intangible, other than the sheer beauty of it, is that it truly does give a sense of a pure arc. There is movement here, and it’s a sensibly charted course. The spaces Nerell and Craig move the listener through are diverse, but there’s never a sense of being pulled into some new realm. Smooth transitions make for easy steps one to the next and nothing ever takes the listener out of the flow. The pair manipulate the audience with perfect mastery. You’ll feel Intangible just as much as you hear it. When this disc begins popping up on every “Best Of” list later this year, it will not be just because we have lost an amazing talent in Barry Craig and we feel the need to honor him. It won’t be simply a matter of weighing it in terms of what could have come next. It will not be in retrospect. It will just be this, a stunning legacy left by an amazing talent, in tandem with an equally talented artist, taking the only chance they had to use this chemistry, leaving an indelible mark on the ambient music community that raises the bar for other artists.

Intangible is a Hypnagogue Highly Recommended CD.

Available from Hypnos.

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