Stephen Philips: Desert Landscapes 2

philps_desertStephen Philips says it took more than 10 years to land on the music that he considered a worthy successor to his 1999 release, Desert Landscapes. Although I’ve never heard the original recording, as I emerge once again from the droney depths and enveloping environs of Desert Landscapes 2, I’d have to say I’m glad he took his time. Philips is, in my opinion, one of the leading practitioners of drone music. He understands that it is a more dynamic and descriptive discipline than its name implies. Here, he quietly flaunts that understanding in time-stopping style. As it begins, it would be easy to mistake Desert Landscapes 2 for a dark ambient release. “Bluebell Knoll” enters on a slowly rising rasp of electronic wind that manifests into the sort of low groan that typifies dark stylings. Philips lets it stretch out as it goes forward, but it never quite loses that shadowy edge. “Kayenta” follows, growing even more sparse for long stretches, drones whispering their way past. But this is not how the whole release goes; this is just one interpretation of the topography. Through “Black Mesa” and into “Moab,” things quiet down–“Moab,” particularly, is an incredibly soft drift, a slow pan across the vista at dawn. By this point, anyway, you are very likely completely pulled in and enveloped in the sound. Philips does a great job of balancing light and shadow throughout the release. It’s never fully one or the other; we certainly get the feel of the desolate, dangerous side of the deserts, but we see and feel their stark beauty, that stunning simplicity and sense of place they impart. I recall standing on a ledge at Gates Pass in Tucson, looking south, and not only being amazed at how huge and full of nothing the desert was–it was this New England boy’s first real look at it–but also feeling like I wanted to do nothing but stay there and watch it for a very long time. This is the sense I get from Desert Landscapes 2. This album is powerfully meditative at any volume, but I have found that I prefer it whispering to me in headphones, letting the drones ease their way into my head to take me elsewhere. For rich, superb, mind-melting drone, you can’t do much better than Desert Landscapes 2. Thanks for waiting, Stephen.

Available from Dark Duck.

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