The story behind the creation of BioSonic and Second Nature, the collaborative and thematically linked albums from Steve Roach and Robert Logan, is the stuff of young-ambient-musician dreams. Logan, a Roach fan since the age of 13 whose own work is profoundly inspired by him, began corresponding with Roach about 15 years ago. In his initial contact, he included a CD of his own music. Roach says that he found Logan’s music to be “…already emoting at a very high level that seemed well beyond his years.” The two began on some intercontinental collaboration—Logan in England, Roach in the American southwest—the results of which are expressed in these two works.
As much of a Roach fan as I am, if you just sat me down and hit play on BioSonic, I would not have identified it as his work. The mechanistic clicks, whirs, and gurgles, like some robotic boot-up coming on line, instantly grab my attention but definitely do not shout “Steve Roach.” As it transposes itself into a pleasantly plodding rhythm and the air fills with a dizzying array of sounds, I find that it wouldn’t matter who was at the controls—it’s easy to hear from early on that this will be a good ride. After that first track, I pick up more of Roach’s work seeping into the deep mix. Chugging percussive tones and a feeling of electronic velocity on “OmniGen” bring up memories of Trance Spirit as Roach and Logan thicken and intensify a storm-swirl of sound. The wall they create is fantastically dense, and the way it unloads into the quieter environs of “Ecdysis Activation” has a sense of release to it. It may come as no surprise to Roach listeners that the shifts in tempo and tone here are absolutely fluid and organic. It’s pure flow, no pun intended, weaving from the gallop of “Primal Confluence” (where the Trance Spirit connection is even stronger) to the slow, humid churn of “Erososphere” and back up into the more energized playfulness of “The Biomechinoid Liefcycle Revealed.” That track is an ear-tickling mass of analog chirp and twitter, tiny sounds filling your head in swarms. While this whole album is a blast with headphones, this is the track that warrants putting them on in the first place. The title track follows, keeping the throttle jammed open while the duo pull an endless batch of fresh, odd sounds out of their gear and send them ricocheting around the space. Highly infectious.
Second Nature sits on the other end of the spectrum, four quiet tracks that stretch calmly outward. The title track and “Mystic Drift” are longer than the other two, given half an hour and 22 minutes, respectively, to course past. Unlike the long-distance relationship that ideated BioSonic, this was created with the artists in the studio together for the first time, finding an ideal meeting point of concept and technique. While Roach handles the electronic atmospheres, Logan takes to the grand piano and sets thoughtful notes floating. The piano is at its most forward in “Shadowspeak,” something of a nocturne played out slowly, its resonant notes forming chords in the background. On “Mystic Drift,” the song slows further, a distant dream-element calling out in a widening wash of warm ambient textures. Roach’s work on this track is remarkably soft, a head-soothing blend of tones that completely remove the listener to a very pleasant elsewhere. The title track is similar in structure and equally immersive. Touches of tension slip in at times with short-of-dissonant tones that raise up lightly in the flow, but the listener remains well within the sound for this lush half-hour ride.
These are two superb releases, and their difference in approach makes them that much more interesting. I enjoy the strong vibrancy and velocity of BioSonic and its hard, metallic edges. And I enjoy Second Nature for its slow beauty and the way it works its emotive magic at low volumes. Second Nature is bound to get a lot of looping play as listeners just allow it to fill their space. I had not realized (literally until getting to this point in my review and doing some digging) that Robert Logan formerly recorded as Sense Project—I believe I reviewed his release, The Sublime, back when it was released in 2008, and I have played his work on my podcast. I do not recall being as moved by that album as I am by these, but needless to say, Mr. Logan has my full attention now. These are must-hear albums.