I like collaborative works. I am fascinated by their chemistry, the balance of styles and ideas, the way two approaches become singular. When such collaborations happen between two artists whose solo work I truly enjoy, it’s even better. Such is the case with Vague Traces from Phillip Wilkerson and Chris Russell. I have reviewed these two extensively in the past. I’d go so far as to say I’m a fan of both. Thus, I eagerly dove into this album and was immediately rewarded. Both of these gentlemen tend to put out broad, quiet work full of rich pad structures. Russell is more likely to veer toward darkness, so there’s some of that here as well. “Across the Sun” and the beginning of “Evening’s Empire,” which follow one another mid-album, take us in that direction. “Across the Sun” arrives after two quieter tracks and challenges us a little with near-dissonant pads and metallic rings. The tone is ominous but never threatening, even as coarse, windy rumbles pass over the proceedings. To a degree, the track feels a little static, its main elements not changing much, but the fact that said elements are in constant motion against one other keeps it all from getting old over its 10-minute run. “Evening’s Empire” begins in a similar vein, with that something’s coming tone, but quickly levels off into big, arching pads. That about does it for the slightly grimmer side of things. Everything else on Vague Traces shows us through well-made territory like sub-orbital space music. “Just A Shadow” is loaded with warm, slow-moving pads and touches of plucked strings. A glissando of harp later in the track threatens to jump a little too far into cliche New Age territory for my tastes, but it’s a momentary indulgence. The last 20 or so minutes of this album, the tracks “For Dreaming” and “Until Tomorrow,” create a very deep drift. I quite like the low end on “For Dreaming,” and there are points where it pulses and oscillates gently for a very interesting wave effect. “Until Tomorrow” opens like a classic ambient piece, stretched out and floating, then laces in a soft melody. It has a delicate, glassy feel and is quite quieting.
First impressions count, and I must say that I was a little bugged on an early listen by what sounds like a too-sudden fade-out at the end of the first track. It’s a tiny quibble, but it surprised me from artists of this caliber. Set that aside, and Vague Traces is a very good meeting of the minds; these two talents both bring a lot to the studio, and the result is a beautiful album that will get plenty of repeat play.
Available from Spotted Peccaary.