Inspired by nights of stargazing near his rural Indiana home, Jeff Pearce presents his first ambient guitar album in over a decade. Using just guitar and processing for all its sounds, With Evening Above glides back and forth between earthbound melodies basking in a rich wash of reverb and truly ambient drifts composed of starlight and speaking to us of unimaginable distances. When I say “back and forth,” I mean that literally. The odd-numbered tracks are our solid pieces, the songs. The title track opens the release with crisp notes and bright harmonics. The reverb and delay on each note melts off into the background, the sound wash growing constantly and delicately denser, a mist of harmony supporting the melody. The equation continues, altered slightly, on “A Clear Night,” “Ghosts of Summers Past,” and “A Closed Circle (Farewell.)” Each is unique in its way, charting its own course along looped lines and phrases. Each has a kind of bright touch of melancholy. It’s not about dwelling, it’s about remembering. It’s about looking back gladly. I think this truly comes to the surface in “A Closed Circle (Farewell).” It feels a touch more sentimental (and this, obviously, is a purely subjective thing), and will probably pull to mind some farewells of your own. The first very bright notes of “A Clear Night” head straight into my soul; the song itself is deeply affecting. If these tracks came one after the other, I think that their relative similarity–the tone of the guitar, the cadence of the melodies, the effect of the echo–might bother me. But Pearce is a smart man, so he separates them with lush drifts as deep as your favorite spacemusic pieces. It’s a testament to the power of processed sound that these four pieces sound like they could have come straight out of a synth. Knowing that it’s one guy, one guitar, and a bit of perfect timing–and having seen it done live–just amps up how good these pieces are. They’re also longer than their grounded counterparts, giving you more time to take it all in. Familiar elements get used perfectly: choral pads, long washes of sound, upward-arcing chords, all pulled together in classic rise-and-fall patterns. This is where we get that feel of the distance between stars, all the questions a deep night sky makes us ask ourselves. And, of course, it’s something you can just look into, aurally speaking, for a long, long time. With Evening Above closes with the 21-minute voyage “No Matter How Far.” This track alone is worth the price of admission. Along with the already established massive drifts of sound, there are passages where Pearce layers in a light sequencer feel. It’s dialed way back, coming in softly like it doesn’t want you to notice it at first–and you may not–but then settling in to texture the flow and to up the dynamic for a few minutes. It’s a nice touch, perfectly underplayed. It fades eventually, leaving us set blissfully adrift in the rest of this big, warm track.
If you happen to pick up With Evening Above, and you don’t immediately take it outside to listen to while doing a bit of sky-gazing of your own, well, that would be a mistake. This loop-worthy release captures the kind of inspiring natural beauty shown in its cover art, and, like all good ambient, offers us a path to bring us in touch with our own deep musings. The blend of hushed drifts and bright notes, of the sense of being here and going there, of active and passive, is balanced perfectly. Put it on, leave it on. A must-hear from a true master of the art.
Available from Jeff Pearce’s web site.