Steve Painter calls his work as Dark Sunny Land “cranky ambient.” Employing effect-laden guitar along with keyboards, rainsticks, household objects and more, he grinds out a set of moody and mildly unsettling constructs on Emanations for a Returning. The disc opens with the four-part title work, 44 minutes of gritty, humming drones layering aggressively to cast a mesmerizing spell while other elements knock and clatter around them. It opens with the jarring clang of a gong, and then Painter begins to wrench sounds from his gear. Part I works through a slow build, elements folding in and thickening the sound as it goes. A bass note marks a slogging sense of rhythm as Painter works toward an industrial tone harshed by long yawns of feedback. Part II takes on a slightly more menacing air, opening with a well-stretched, eerie drone. Here he keeps minimal elements in play, maximizing the tension through modulation. Part III gives off a sense of having something resembling a more traditional structure. There’s less straight-line drone and more of a feeling of interplay between phrases–while maintaining a vaporous and metallic tone. Part IV is ghostly at first, the sound thin and distant. A noise like a host of electronic cicadas chitters in a rise and fall cadence. The deep resonance of temple bowls ring out against rasping chords. From there Painter takes us to the “Toxic Playground,” a sparse and creepy place, a space haunted by dying memories and ringing with a metallic clatter like empty swings banging on rusting metal. Painter’s guitar shimmers and weeps. “Blues for RJ” is an interesting mix of finger-picked acoustic guitar and a waveform drone, with Painter’s random sound collection clattering, thunking, and reverberating in the background. A separate set of bass notes underscores the guitar. What really works here is how the soulful feel of the guitar vies against the cold, mechanical repetition of the drone. There’s a definite loneliness to it, heightened by the play of the familiar versus the off-putting. And, in a very nice touch, Painter ends with a strike on the gong. Your dark meditation has come to an end.
It takes some patience to dig into Painter’s work. His drones tend toward the appropriately static side of things, shifting quite minimally, gaining strength through slow-motion repetition. But there’s a rich depth of sound at play and a very strong emotional thread coursing through it. Mind you, that emotion can border on unpleasant at times, or at least uncomfortable, but it’s worth working through. Emanations for a Returning grew on me over repeat listens, and I look forward to hearing more from Dark Sunny Land.
Available from the Dark Sunny Land web site.