Adhering closely to Eno’s ideal of ambient music, John Sobocan’s new release, A Soft Circle, is an astounding work of understated grace. Played quietly in the background, the disc is a subtle thing, never raising its voice but patiently waiting for your attention. Passages arise like wayward thoughts and then melt back into the distance. But close up, the layers of Sobocan’s work are revealed. In among the dreamy flows and sighing phrases there is depth and texture–even the occasional rough edge and passing darkness. The mix begins immediately. At a distance, the opening track “Free” is a set of stretched, languidly yawning pads, warm and immersive. In headphones, however, you’ll more clearly notice a background sound, somewhere between muted buzzsaw whir and a power chord, cutting across the sound. Field recordings work their way into the blend as well; crickets chirp behind the quickly undulating waveforms of “Silence,” and “Leaves On A Forest Floor” is filled with birdsong and the hush of a flowing rill, placed over shadowy chords and pads. A distant roll of thunder can be heard in places. While the latter track’s pedigree may seem to stem from some old, regrettable “atmospheres” kind of work meant to lull you to sleep with recorded rainstorms, the subtlety of the music behind it elevates the sense and quality by several levels. “The Path” is a deep envelope of sound–once again, in a non-focused listen it’s simply soothing. Get in close and you’ll hear much more texture, ripples of sound, a whisper of wind. There’s a slight sense of unease curled around “Ohms”–the clock-chime tones that form the body edge toward a hint of dissonance; roughened, downward-arcing spirals lace through the background; wayward tones wander in, and laze back out. “Rove” opens with a sharp electronic buzz and fluttering, helicopter-like sounds. Although the sound itself is a bit disruptive–especially coming out of the charm of “A Boat”–Sobocan modulates it into a hypnotic waveform and lets it hiss its way into your head. This is what I quite like about A Soft Circle; Sobocan keeps offering new modes that move the attentive listener through these unique zones, and does it while maintaining that top layer of Eno-esque simplicity. Back away from a well-packed track like “Rove” and it softens to a rumor. A Soft Circle is likely to get a number of repeat listens. You’ll want to go back and compare the low-volume, remote listen to the deep, focused listen more than once. And it stands up to the scrutiny. A great disc from John Sobocan.
Available from Databloem.