The sonic landscape of The Past Is Another Country spends much of its time dwelling in shadowy darkness, but slowly and by its final track meanders out toward, but not entirely into, the light. Steve Roberts, recording as Amongst Myselves, invites listeners to take an “inward focussed journey to explore your darkest thoughts and fears.” But it’s not as dark as all that. Not by dark ambient standards, at least. Yet what it might lack in pure darkness it more than makes up for in shadow-carved layers of sound, processed field recordings, and a superb sense of being out there quite alone. Roberts opens the proceedings with the title track, which comes off as a fairly straightforward bit of ambient built out of gently oscillating waveforms. Then he flips a switch and off we go into places a bit less pleasant. “Dark Places, Winter Shadows” is a haunted thing with quiet windy backdrops, a persistent cadence meted out by one grim bass note that lands over and over, and vocal snippets of voices—some of children, some of an adult male voice, neither distinct. It feels like isolationist ambient but without the typical grinding weight. It’s more atmospheric, and effectively so, pulling a true sense of unease out of an uncomplicated construct. Drones take the forefront on “He Who Bathes in the Black Sun” and build into a thick, mesmerizing wall that then slowly fades to mist. “Cave of the Swimmers” plays in experimental ground, spiraling together field recordings, squibs of electronic sound, and a sparse, lonely feel. Roberts is not afraid of silence of the pause, and doesn’t feel the need to over-pack his sonic space. At this point, Roberts turns us back toward the light. The timing is excellent, and bright guitar notes in “The Day the Crickets Listened” are the perfect vehicle. After almost half an hour of feeling mildly creepy and a bit lost in the mist, the solid tones of the strings guide us out and up. Nice harmonies at play here between the guitar and the pads, and he stirs in some textures from more small electronic sounds. The feel continues through the final two tracks, “Campfires of the Night Sky” and “In My Depths, All Treasures Dwell.” Roberts eases us back toward a soft ambient space filled with pads and textural touches that play in the ears, and in doing so pulls the end of the release in line with its beginning—which of course means it loops very nicely.
The Past is Another Country is the third Amongst Myselves release I’ve reviewed and it is, hands-down, my favorite. Past efforts have always contained some small, probably picky thing that takes me out of the flow; that never happens here. The album contains no bumps, no jarring moments, no twists that merit a “huh?” It tells its story, it keeps me immersed and moving forward, it makes me want to hear it again. This is very much a headphone listen. You need to take in Roberts’ detail work to truly appreciate what he’s so carefully placing into your head and how he’s eliciting deep and often visceral responses from you. A great piece of work.
Available at Bandcamp.