Bob Holroyd’s new release, Afterglow, is quite simply the gentlest, most emotionally potent, enveloping piece of electro-acoustic ambient music I’ve heard in a very long time. From the first whispering cello notes in “Half Light,” the all-too-human element that fills this disc takes firm hold. It sets the tone for a suite of works whose strength comes in part from their open emotional vulnerability and their heat-pouring-forth lyricism. That mix, along with Holroyd’s graceful playing, particularly on piano and cello, hook the listener immediately. Afterglow has a story it needs tell, and it’s softly asking you to hear it out. And you will. “Ambient Like Snow” has a metronomic rhythm picked out in simple piano notes played with syllabic intent. High notes drop in, their resonance turning to hushed, vibrating echoes. “Empty Vessel” begins with Holroyd’s guitar speaking in a slow, folk-tinged voice, then builds in layered statements as soft drones roll under the mix. Restrained outbursts of electronic burble speak up in spots to add texture. The guarded use of electronics is part of what makes Afterglow shine. Holroyd slides understated electronic washes, virtually unnoticed, in the background of most tracks, a layer of subtle tone that seems to give the organic instruments an even stronger presence. I really enjoy his treatment in “27 Words,” where a warble of sound plays against more of Holroyd’s simple-yet-solid piano. And in the one place where the electronics take more of a starring role, “In the Time We Have Left,” Holroyd shows that he can handle that, too. A loop of sequencer patiently walks its pattern as a piano melody takes its time getting ready and strings ease their way into the blend. Holroyd’s ability to hook immediately into your emotional response centers becomes quite apparent in the three shortest tracks on the disc, each just over two minutes. As noted earlier, “Half Light” wastes no time hitting you in the heart; “Fragments” finds the cello crying again, layered in a weeping choir of rich sound; and “Moment” offers a melancholic pairing of guitar over strings–the guitar line repeats in the background as the cellos morph and wail. Much of the draw of Afterglow, for me, is the way in which Holroyd takes apparently simple phrasings and lets them be just that. He recognizes that they have a certain strength of their own, that the spaces between notes are as vital as the notes themselves in creating a response, and he lets the mathematics of this simplicity find their way to very listenable, touching equations. It’s in our quieter moments that our truest feelings arise; Afterglow is filled, start to finish, with those moments. Afterglow is a Hypnagogue Highly Recommended CD.
Available from Bob Holroyd’s web site.