It pays to be patient when listening to fade, the first solo release in several years from ambient scene veteran Dr. Mike Metlay. Each of the six songs here build themselves architecturally while you listen. Humble, sometimes odd, beginnings scale upward and hit an “a-ha” point as the purpose of Metlay’s musical madness becomes clear. And when these pieces reach full potential, it’s quite simply fantastic. While it’s not unusual for electronic music to be built this way, on fade it’s done for an interesting reason—which I’ll get to later. On my many review listens, the thought that comes to me is that hearing these songs get pieced together is like watching Metlay lay down clear sheets with each variable of the equation written on it. Bit by bit, a new element gets layered and never obscures all the structural considerations below it. Outside of the short opening piece, “Fade to White (Glimpse),” each song on fade has ample time to evolve—from 10 to just over 14 minutes. “Fade to Silver” is a glacial, almost minimalist piece that builds off a repeating set of three-note phrases. Around those phrases, Metlay floats small sounds and elements like points of illumination against the bigger, foggy backdrop. The whole thing spins into a gently hypnotic wash of sounds, and your mind is massaged into submission by those repeating, unwavering phrases. The lowest note in those phrases delivers a solid, bone-felt resonance. My love of this album was cemented with “Fade to Purple.” Calling to mind the churn and flow of Tangerine Dream, this is one of the pieces that begins with a bit of a “Huh?” Synth hand claps pace out a stumbling rhythm over a drum heavy on reverb. More percussion eases in, followed by a music-box melody. On my initial listen, this was where I started to doubt, quite honestly. Then, as these elements began lacing themselves together and the familiar Berlin School flute sound walked in, I got it. A-ha. And when a chopped vocal snippet gets tossed into this intricate lattice, it manages to get even cooler. For pure cool, the award has to go to “Fade to Gold,” a track that has been played at maximum volume in my car many, many times. Springy, analog-style bass sequencer lays the foundation over big, industrial drum crashes. A backbeat slides in, and another vocal snip, this time with kind of a world-music edge, pushes the intensity even higher—and the damn thing isn’t even half over. Synth phrases in layers, a raw guitar sound, a tick-tock sequencer hitting the high end…it just keeps getting bigger, more intense, more involved. And when it ends with one big percussive crash…ecstasy, I tell you. Electro-music lover ecstasy.
Ideally, I would have you go listen to fade before I tell you what the really interesting part of this is. Metlay has told me that he kept this information to himself because he didn’t want the knowledge to color people’s perception of the album before they heard it. I listened before I knew, and when he told me how it was done, I was quite honestly amazed at this deep, captivating, and vital album’s pretty humble origins. As Metlay told me via email, with the exception of “Fade to Blue (live edit)”: “The album was created… Sound design, arrangement, composition, recording, sequencing, editing, mixing, and mastering… Entirely on one iPad.” Your ears will tell you this is bullshit—but that’s because of our perception of how music is made and what’s required to make it, a perception that fade goes a long way toward demolishing. Easily one of 2016’s best. Get this now, whether to hear what one talented musician can do with a single tool, or to help you shed your idea that it can’t be done this way.
Available from Aural Films.