I don’t usually do multiple reviews for an artist in one entry, but with the rather prolific Phillip Wilkerson, it can become a necessity. This review covers two recent releases, 2010’s The Way Home and 2011’s Ten to Eleven. Both are personal compilations and serve as a very good introduction to, and narrative of, Wilkerson’s evolving sound.
The Way Home is a compilation of early works, gathered in a netlabel release at Earth Mantra. Filled with easy flows in a classic quiet music style, it’s a beautifully reflective disc. For the most part the music here follows a familiar rise-and-fall pattern; some elements only as long as a breath, others stretched and held. Wilkerson infuses each waveform with grace and warmth. “The Adagio for Dreamers” is a blissfully relaxing wash of sound. There are layers, but they’re not densely packed in. There’s just enough interplay between them to create movement. Its followup, “Nightwatcher I” is my favorite track here, nearly 15 minutes of soft drones and long pads, quietly played in slowly shifting tones. “The Stillness of Time” is a graceful blend of birdsong, the crisp patter of rain and delicate ambient constructs. Wilkerson’s restrained hand is fully in play here as he lets the birds and rain carry the piece; the musical aspects come to us from distance. There are also tracks that bring his talents as a more traditional musician to the fore. “Equations” puts a thoughtfully played piano melody on top of whisper-light chords. The motif is heard again in “4 a.m.,” where the keys adopt a tone somewhere between fretless bass and electric piano as they take overtired and almost uncertain steps through the piece. The idea behind the piece is conveyed beautifully here. The Way Home is a time-stretcher of a disc, an hour of music that’s in no hurry to let you go. I respectfully suggest you won’t have a problem with that.
For Ten to Eleven Wilkerson took a number of tracks that had been released in lower sound quality via netlabels in 2010 and 2011 and had them remastered by Ben Cox of the Lotuspike label. Although from different releases, the tracks come together in a seamless flow of quiet ambient. The disc takes off on a high, hopeful note with the warm, intersecting pads of “All Possible Worlds” and pretty much remains up there even in its quietest moments. Wilkerson’s music is always padded thick with emotion–there’s a sense of the stories within the sound truly coming from the heart–and the journey here feels filled with personal secrets being whispered to the listener. The space that forms under the influence of “Complex Silence 15” and “The Heart Has Reasons” (which is from The Way Home) is very intimate; these are perhaps the deepest flows on the disc, 15 minutes spent completely out of time and inside your head. Ten to Eleven runs a scant 45 minutes but Wilkerson fills every moment of it with depth, warmth and meaning–the overarching signatures of his sound.
I’m not enough of an audiophile to pick out the differences in quality on the tracks shared between these two discs. Any way, I burn discs into iTunes as 128 bit files, which is probably some sort of reviewer sin, so I’m not sure it would be distinct enough to pick up. But I’m more concerned with the music’s effect on me, and Phillip Wilkerson is one of the most affecting musicians in ambient right now. Both of these discs are excellent points of entry for the new Wilkerson listener as well as great additions for those who, like me, are following him on his journey.