Over the course of the four albums from him that I have reviewed, Christopher Alvarado has become a musician I keep an ear on. Between releases under his own name and those he puts out as Twilight Transmissions, he has demonstrated a real knack for crafting work that’s wrapped in shadow and uncertainty but which can suddenly shift into a strong groove. On this new album with Finnish sound artist Ari Porki, he nails it yet again. Menagerie of Clouds is a deep ambient ride that skirts the edge of darkness, giving listeners just enough of a glimpse of what’s going on over there in the murk. Borrowed tribal rhythms and field recordings flesh out the flow, and the duo nicely balance rhythmic tracks with mistier amorphous constructs. The rhythmic pieces are absolutely coated with hooks. “Cape Isthmus” blossoms into a wash-and-pulse flow with recognizable Steve Roach influences. Strong percussion drives it forward and a sweet sequencer line bobs and weaves through the sound. “Land of Nothing” lifts up out of swishing layers of sound to resonate with deep electro-pop echoes–like Yaz or New Order with a heavier ambient undercurrent. A beefy bass line punctuates the washes and finds its way into you. The beatless pieces, or those with minimal beats, are equally effective. “Inception of Stillness” finds its center in broad pads with hints of Porki’s field recordings lurking at the edges. The sound surges in places, taking on mass and intensity, driving upward and filling the space with expectation. On the darker side is “Valley of Winds,” which dwells in a far more abstract space, haunted by echoing vocal samples. The sound here bends toward Alvarado’s Twilight Transmissions side in its timbre, and picks up dimension from tribal-style percussion and shakers. I do have a minor complaint on one track, and it exists only because the remainder of Menagerie of Clouds is such a seamless ride. “Mesas” has a rough edit at the end that cuts out abruptly, creating a moment that rips me out of a good flow. I wondered if I’d accidentally shifted to “shuffle” and there was meant to be a smoother transition into the next track. Apparently not. While this is a very minor thing to point out, it is the one huh? moment in an otherwise completely immersive flow.
Menagerie of Clouds catches me with its near-dark atmosphere, tribal touches, and richly dimensional feel. It’s superb on a close listen as Alvarado and Porki load their layers. Many feel whisper-thin, but stacked and infused with a little mystery, that take on a deeper effectiveness. It’s a great blend that works well. You need to hear this one.
Available from Aural FIlms.