As Phillip Wilkerson takes on the metaphor of rivers in his new release, I will strive to keep my review free of the obvious references—flowing, liquid, drifting currents, etc.—because, if you’ve listened to much of his work, these words always apply. In fact, it’s hard to say much about Waking Across the River that I haven’t said in previous reviews. I could start with “you need to get this,” because you do, and go from there. I could mention the deep, personal, emotional quality that runs through each track, but you’re going to feel that strongly from the opening moments. Although the majority of the album is dominated by long, drone-like pads in a classic rise-and-fall layout, Wilkerson opens in a very New Age kind of space with “And Then the Time Was Lifted,” firing off dramatic piano glissandi over string pads. He then lets his sounds quiet down and melt together into more straightforward ambient shapes. This is the format for two of the parts of Wilkerson’s four-section suite. “Kiss Her Once for Me” keeps its “solid” sounds in place for longer, playing out within a swirl of pads. Toward the end of the track, Wilkerson gives it a sequencer bounce for an easy analog feel. “The Last Day Here,” which comes between them, heads straight off into spacey, nebulous clouds of pad work. It’s something of a warm-up for the title track, which closes the suite. The first three are short although they feel pleasantly longer when you’re in them. The closer is a half-hour of pure drift, an absolute cloud of ambient deepness. While a slowly oscillating low end draws a long and steady line, mid-range tones curve and cross in the air. It’s all quite dream-like and enveloping, certainly a candidate to be looped on its own when it’s time to wind down and drift off. Let the comparisons to Steve Roach be drawn; this piece deserves to be held up to that standard, and does so more than favorably.
Put Waking Across the River into your quiet-time playlist, and keep it there. Once again, Wilkerson — a known quantity in this genre who, I feel, deserves even more recognition — is offering up beautifully rendered work, a cohesive journey wrapped effectively around a fairly common theme. (It would have been too easy to throw in field recordings of water, an affectation Wilkerson thankfully didn’t reach for.) And while it may seem more space-oriented than water-based, it is still a calming, meditative voyage of, yes, liquid pads and flowing dreams. Get this, and float away.
Available at Bandcamp.