Steve Brand, Second Spring

brand_springSecond Spring is almost an hour and half of deep, detail-loaded ambient from Steve Brand. I could end my review there and tell you that’s all the convincing you need to go listen to this, but then I wouldn’t get to talk about said detail, about the move from dark to light, about the thoughtful-as-always compositional style of an artist who is, quite frankly, one of my favorite names in ambient right now. Brand saves the lighter side of this journey for the later tracks. Second Spring‘s path opens in a place  that is surprisingly gruff in spots, thick with shadow and concern and potential energy. It feels like passage. Big, edgy guitar-like chords bloom throughout the title track, outlined with buzzing distortion. Sound rises in heady walls. Parts of “The Sun Resides Within My Body” offer a snarling, guttural vocal like chant’s less-well-intentioned cousin. There’s a distinct tone of ritual and passage. That’s something that should be noted—as heavy and near-dark as these opening tracks start out, in typical Brand fashion, they resolve into something softer and more accessible, with more space to breathe. That transition becomes a physical effect, a release that works very nicely. The tone brightens for a bit when Brand breaks out his flutes and shakers for “Transitional Experience.” There’s a lot of sonic activity going on in this track, with plenty of small sounds and pad work filling the space. The flute work continues on “A Drop, Becomes A Stream, Becomes A River, Becomes the Ocean.” Up close and intimate, Brand lays down snaking, jumping, twisting lines over very quiet pads. The contrast of dynamics is excellent, and something in his playing feels like he’s captured a raw, improvised, spirit-of-the-moment energy. Gong strikes roll in and push the work again toward prayer. Touches of dissonance bring us back to an edgier spot in the flow even as it winds down to a meditative space. The album finishes with its two brightest tracks, “Fruit of the Spring” and “Love Never Dies.” (You can read into it what you will that both pieces time out at 11:11.) “Fruit…” features a melody that bounces off the strings of an oud, like a hesitant raga, buoyed on pure ambient pad flows. Chimes clatter in accent. “Love…”  begins beautifully as an ambient/spacemusic piece, then adds a melodic element on keys roughly halfway through without shedding the lovely high tones and quiet hush that’s been set up. I find this a very touching piece of work. Brand manipulates the dynamics for maximum emotional impact and drives his listeners to an uplifting, peaceful conclusion. This is one of those albums that, when it ends you just want to spend a few more moments being aware of your breathing and of the spiritual light that’s been left there for you.

Steve Brand’s output is consistently amazing. The very personal nature of the music always shines through. He is truly one of the top names in electro-acoustic music right now, and Second Spring exemplifies why. It encompasses so many ideas, yet fuses them seamlessly. Once you hit play, the ride is captivating and smooth for the next 79 minutes. Everything here is deeply affecting at any volume, and rewards both deep listens and repeat listens. An incredible suite of pieces, and a true must-hear.

Available from Pioneer Light.

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