In past reviews of Forrest Fang’s work, I often focused on the range of ethnic instruments in the mix and the signature cross-cultural vibe they bring to the music. But for The Sleepwalker’s Ocean, Fang’s first-ever 2-CD release, all my focus is on the overarching sense of dreamy calm, the way lightly rhythmic lines melt into graceful ambient waves that carry me off, and the welcome invitation Fang extends to do nothing but drift and listen for two hours. “Gone to Ground” opens the disc by coming toward us like dawn through a misty fog. Then a deep, reverberating note of mallet-struck strings signals a change in tone. It’s sudden and surprising, but but not unpleasantly jarring. That dulcimer-like tone then slips back under a thick wash to become points of brightness. If you are familiar with Fang’s work, it probably goes without saying that the layers on this album run very deep and complex, so do get in for a close listen. On “Message in the Sand,” Fang gets an assist from Robert Rich on flute. This track picks up the rich chime tones that work through a lot of Fang’s music. It’s the sound that first turned me on to him on “Gongland.” This is a catchy, percussion-nudged ambient groove with a softly serpentine Eastern flair. Rich’s flutes course in like a vocal, airy and ghostly. From there we enter into the first disc’s opus, the six-part title track. Covering just over half an hour, it opens by putting us back into a cloud-soft space of deep pads and flecks of electronic twinkle. Each piece shows its own distinct face, from the eerie airs and dark-ambient density of “Bog” to the calm washes and telltale clicks of “Geiger.” The shining, energetic open of the final part, “Waywards,” is a fantastic wake-up call to a mind gone wandering.
The second disc, “An Alternate Ocean (The Salton Sea),” is genuinely magnificent. A single piece of classic ambient running nearly an hour, it is blissfully and completely immersive, a slow-moving dream made of soft sound. Fluidly dynamic, its rises in intensity and subsequent moments where it settles back down into breath-slowing ease come naturally and organically. The ride is uninterrupted even as it morphs through subtle changes. Let your mind’s eye take its time describing these vistas. Put this on repeat and let it go.
I would tell you that this is Forrest Fang at his absolute best, but having listened to him over the years, I feel that this is just the next amazing waypoint in a career that somehow manages to get better with every new release. Perhaps there is no apex for Forrest Fang; he just continues to find new ways to enthrall his listeners. The Sleepwalker’s Ocean is destined to be a landmark ambient recording.
Available from Projekt.