The first words that come to mind regarding Songs from Unknown Territory are: sparse beauty. Steve Brand uses a quiet voice as he lays out these six tracks that describe places that are vast, alone, abandoned, and perhaps just a touch desolate—yet still retain their own uniquely fascinating quality. In capturing them, Brand sticks largely to a very airy kind of structure, relying on whispering pads, slow tonal changes, and a sonic focus that nudges almost everything toward the background. Cinematically, it’s a series of wide shots that embrace the scope of the landscape and, rather than moving, use a static focal point to allow us to stare and fix our gaze on whichever parts of it pique our attention. Much of the album has a cloudy pall over it, a suggestion of nascent darkness that never fully arrives. It is the sense of being alone in these places and thinking of their ghosts. Deep, exhaling pads push a chill wind over the opening of “When I’ve Left Behind All That I Was,” with Brand allowing them to stretch and shift patiently. The tone changes, more than once, bringing in brighter tones, like a wash of unexpected sunlight between the clouds tracing its way across the landscape, before turning back through weighty bass sounds that rumble and hiss. To me, it speaks of passage. Brand throws in an interesting turn mid-album, when “Some Are Things of Substance, Some Are Not” suddenly offers up guitar tones. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they enter pretty much in the middle-most part of the middle-most track. Just a small melody, played among the pads, but a real ear-catcher—and nicely placed. It fades into a rising tide of tone and texture in a passage that makes me need to stop and listen deeply. Darkness falls at the outset of “The Pause Just Before the Great Exhalation,”
expressed in heavy, rolling low-end tones and a kind of dank-cavern atmosphere. Sit tight, though—it’s another track where light arrives in higher registers and a broader openness of sound. Of course, not Brand album is complete without flute. We get just a touch of it in its unaugmented form, coming in on the title track, which opens the album. I like the style of playing he’s come to favor, which skews toward being sharp and breathy, with a sense of urgency behind it.On this track it heightens that sense of being slightly unsure about coming to this abandoned place, and sets an overall tone for the songs that follow.
Songs From Unknown Territory is a deep-listening album. Though it ventures toward weight and shadow, it remains quiet meditative. Brand’s flows are richly layered, shifting constantly and gracefully. Another superb addition to a growing and always impressive catalog.
Available at Bandcamp.