Smoky, guitar-based ambient curls around you on Christopher Alvarado ‘s Drifting Through Kingdoms. As with much of Alvarado’s work, the voyage leads through some shadowy spots, but he guides us from a lighter area and work our way in. I get swept up in the first two tracks, “Realm of Reflection” and “Borderlands,” and I don’t notice the changeover from one to the next. “Realm…” is where the guitar is at its most obvious, picked against rising pads. It’s swallowed into the blend on “Borderlands,” which has a nice, large and classic feel to it. From there, the dissonance begins to set in, and the tone glides toward a darker attitude. This is where Alvarado begins to lose me a bit, and once the album moves into the piece “Aquae,” I feel like the road has diverged a little too far. Here, Alvarado tries to shoehorn some chanting/hymnal voices over his pads and drifts, and the result is the sense that someone pushed the wrong button at the wrong time. Like two different pieces are fighting for attention, and neither wins. “Dulcet” redeems things a bit with the metallic texture of the guitars pinging of the dark pads, but there’s something to the thinness of the sound that becomes too noticeable for me. “Petra” puts me back into that immersed space I enjoyed at the beginning. Swirls of dark sound and rich low drones intertwine, and a whispery tone that runs through much the album underscores it all. Alvarado puts a good edge on this one, including the subtle use of a haunting vocal sample that slides into the mix, makes you aware of its presence, and then eases back away. This is the album’s longest offering, at 11 minutes, and it makes great use of the time. My only other quibble is the use of a distracting hiss that comes and goes on “Delicacy Above the Lambent.” It’s a little too there, and it sounds less like an element in the song and more like one ear suddenly unclogged while I was listening. It took me out of the album because I wondered if something was wrong.
I don’t feel that Drifting Through Kingdoms necessarily represents Alvarado at his best, but there are plenty of moments that reinforce why I look forward to new work from him. Grab a listen and see if this Drift is more to your liking than mine.
Available from Bandcamp.