Stephen, Abstract

In under 40 minutes, Winnipeg-based artist Stephen manages to lay out ambient music pieces inspired by, among other things, films by Lars Von Trier, internal conversations, lost children and dead raccoons. The 10 pieces here are quick hits, most roughly pop-song length, so there’s not a whole lot of room for development. And, as you might guess from the range of themes, it’s something of a mixed bag. Experimental pieces like “The Conversation” and “Tron’s Wooden Leg” go somewhat awry and seem like they’re trying too hard to be interesting. On the upside, when Stephen is content to slow down and spread out a little, there’s good listening. “Cycle of Life” is built on a slow, melancholic melody over which he lays subtle, almost ghostly field recordings. The result comes off like a patient panning shot across his thematic timeline. (This one’s “visual” involves a woman dying of cancer at 18.) “Lost in Frequency” pulls off a good balancing act between skewed and straightforward. It opens on the soft side and drifts along, eventually taking on a beat and some textural treatment. The sound-play skirts the edge well; it doesn’t go too far and disrupt the symbiosis that develops. Stephen is at his best in the ambient framework of “Floating in Space.” He nails the theme here, long pads supporting a stretched melody. There’s a good turn here, a switch in tone that’s nicely executed and takes the story to a different and no less interesting place. Abstract is hampered, I think, by its own shortness. I can’t shake the sense that it could be a stronger, more fleshed out effort. Thirty-five minutes overall isn’t much time, musically speaking, for most artists to say much, especially in this genre, nor is the three-to-five-minute per-piece range that Stephen shackles himself to in his work. The vocabulary is there. Of that I have no doubt. But I’m not sure Abstract is the best expression of what Stephen may have to say.

Available at Bandcamp.

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