Using just bass guitar and effects and recording almost everything in one take, Theo Tol, recording as Crow’s Labyrinth, turns out a mixed batch of more-or-less dark ambient on his new release, Travels. It’s an interesting concept that works for the most part. The disc starts fairly strong; “Frontier” and “Influx” focus on atmosphere and working with a fairly small set of sounds. It’s nicely grim, and the simplicity of the sound-set lets Tol create spaces with real depth. Particularly on “Influx,” there are places where the bass becomes an animalistic growl, something lurking in the dark with unpleasant intentions, and the tense feel Tol crafts plays into that. And then we come to the appropriately titled “Gibberish,” which quite frankly grates a bit. It sounds like Tol is playing a set of bedsprings, the wobbly sound venturing dangerously close to irritating. “Reverie” and “Strategem” move back into a darker space, but both feel a bit too static for their own good, their long stretches of repetition growing quickly stale. Travels goes out on a pair of good notes, the two best tracks here. The first is an older bass solo called “Below.” Over hissing, slightly metallic background sounds, Tol works his bass through ringing harmonics and a melodic anchor line. This quick 3-minute hit is nicely coherent among the rest of the pieces. The closer, “Heliograph,” builds on curls of processed sound that come off like reverse echoes, layered over long, quiet drones and slowly plucked bass notes. There’s a cool organic feel to it, a calming, liquid condition that pulls the listener in. The good outweighs the so-so on Travels in quality if not quantity. I admire that Tol challenged himself to create these pieces in one go. When he’s on, he’s most definitely on–and that would be the times when he shows more restraint and a better eye for structure. This is a disc that’s well worth looking into, but will definitely appeal more to people whose tastes run to the dark and experimental.
Available from the Crow’s Labyrinth web site.