My initial impression of Arrocata’s Man in the Maze is that it is exceedingly quiet. Not just ambient quiet, but whisper in the middle of a desert night quiet. Robert Straub apparently does not want to rouse you whatsoever as you slip through this 48-minute offering. Long, underplayed drones melt across breathy pads and everything gets coated in a light glaze of hush. Let me correct myself: there are occasional moments where the sound rises up briefly, like the start of “Looking Back,” but it almost instantly and somewhat apologetically quiets back down. For the most part, these pieces feel delicate. They never speak loudly, choosing instead to just course by. This becomes, paradoxically, both a strength and a weakness. Certainly, its lowered voice fortifies its contemplative nature, which is at its best in “The Gift.” Built on string pads and a hiss of rain, it seems fairly simple on the surface, but the mix of sentiment and sound effect create a vivid image and a true emotional core. “Day Break,” which opens the album, establishes the overall tone and also welcomes the listener with a familiar set of synth sounds. Grumbling low end pads and glittering higher notes waft easily past. “The Passage” shifts into a moodier, twilight-shaded space, but again never rears up, never does much more than pull its sonic thread slowly through your ears. “Rising from the Depths” is the most active track, as Straub laces in squibs of curling electronics and some breathy flute sounds. Straub’s music has tended in the past to have that Southwestern sort of flair to it, a light touch of tribal/shamanic influence, but outside of this track, Man in the Maze tends to keep away from that.
As far as this quietness being a weakness… If it was Straub’s intent to create a very restrained album, then he’s succeeded. I do wonder if this might make it too light or thin for some listeners. I’ve been struggling with the question of whether there’s really enough here for me. On one hand, if there was enough, I wouldn’t have to ask. And yet as I have let Man in the Maze‘s low sounds walk me through their vistas over and over, I’ve never quite felt like, okay, that’s enough of that. There is an attraction for me in that restraint, in that resistance to needing to do something more or bigger, but said attraction has had a tendency to waver a bit. In the end, what this kind of music strives for is a visceral response from the listener. That much, this album gets from me. Find a quiet moment, add Man in the Maze to it, and see how it works for you.
Available from CD Baby.