Justin Vanderberg, Synthetic Memories

On his first release since his 2007 debut, In Waking Moments, Justin Vanderberg ushers his listeners through gossamer-winged ambient drifts and homages to the “masters of the sequencer” who inspired his own musical explorations. Vanderberg’s modus is to craft drifts that are as substantial as a cloud–airy, high whispers of chord–and layer them into rich, calming musical breaths. Over these he places minimal touches of more concrete sound. Take the deep flow of “67,” for example, where a pair of notes patiently rise and descend in a simple call-and-response match across the expanse of lower-note pads. Or the graceful “Drops,”which Vanderberg accents with rain-glistened piano notes and a light touch of twirling flute. Vanderberg’s comparatively uptempo pieces work well, too, although “uptempo” might be too strong a word for these rhythmically laid-back songs. “From Below,” where Vanderberg is ably assisted by Spotted Peccary head Jon Jenkins, kicks the disc off in gear with a steady, borderline-tribal drum line that pulses through a rising narrative. Jenkins’ presence here, musically and as co-composer, definitely calls to mind the cinematic sound that’s the signature of his work with David Helpling, but does so without over-riding Vanderberg. “The Path” brings keys and light hand percussion to play with the washes in a mix that will likely set the toes tapping. The title track is a classic sequencer piece, squared-off math constructs pinging and bouncing in a mix of rhythmic permutations. A distinct homage without just sounding fawnish. Synthetic Memories is a very soft disc overall, which lets the punchier elements, the twitching sequencer lines and percussion, pop just a bit more–but never to the point of taking the light away from the carefully constructed drifts. It’s a great low-volume listen that stands up to scrutiny, and it doesn’t wear out its welcome in repeat plays. Expect to listen to this one often. Synthetic Memories is an excellent and long-overdue return from Justin Vanderberg.

Available from Spotted Peccary.

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