Something insinuating and disturbing rumbles beneath all of Brian Leeds’ work: a paranoid, minor-key mystery, as if peeping pairs of eyes emerged from the digital crackle and sub-bass well-being that define his brand of ambient. His music as Huerco S. throws us enough swooning pads and symmetrical kick drums to maintain at least some connection, however abstract, with the club’s comforting pulse. His work as Pendant takes that out of the way to smear black paint over the canvas. Everything rhythmic is inevitably frayed, everything harmonic is buried in layers of digital wind, and the usual reassurances of ambient music no longer apply.
In every direction they will stretch out their hands, the Kansas producer’s second album under the name Pendant was made just weeks after 2018’s Make Me Know You Love. Sweet was full of chattering, insect-like sounds that seemed to slip into the listener’s ear, but the impression on In all directions is of an eerie, distant silence. The first three songs average about 10 minutes, and none of them end far from where they started, and certainly not the opener “Dream Song of the Woman”, 11 minutes of the kind of undulating wind tunnel sound Windy & Carl usually reserve for the depths. of their own albums. This is ambient at its most horizontal, and one wonders if Leeds hasn’t abandoned its usual curls to create something to sit back and float on your way.
No chance. “The Story of My Ancestor the River” hurtles through the middle of the album as if the rotting floorboards of an attic suddenly give way. This is a turbulent, violent track, each individually clattering and beeping for space, all shrouded in a thick armor of distortion. It sounds a bit like “Nil Admirari” from Oneohtrix Point Never, but at least Daniel Lopatin had the good graces to make that attack at the start of Return like a test by fire before the listener could get to the ambient goodies. “The Story of My Ancestor the River”” is sequenced in the middle of the album, so anyone who dares to doze off to “Dream Song” is in for a nasty shock.
“The Story of My Ancestor the River” prepares our ears for the second half of the album, where a lot more happens minute by minute. “The Poor Boy and the Mud Ponies” is the most Huerco-esque track here, with the weakest mind of a beat jumping in and out of the mix. “Sometimes I Go About Pitying Myself While I Am Carried by the Wind Across the Sky” gives the impression of an impenetrable void at first, but if you listen closely, you can hear raging motorcycles, disturbed baby-like howls and all sorts of strange and wet sounds moving in and out of spasms of echo. Nothing happens again with the same intensity as ‘The Story of My Ancestor the River’, but once we learn what this album is capable of, we prick up our ears like prey in search of movement – and can go back to those earlier ones. songs and feel tension rather than calm.
It seems like a frustrating way of sequencing an album, drifting us downstream on the first three tracks before throwing ourselves abruptly into the rapids. But it prevents the possibility that any of this music will just drift to the fringes of consciousness, and you may find yourself paying attention even when nothing seems to be happening. When ambient music trades in tension, we don’t necessarily expect a payoff; maintaining an ominous mood is usually more than good enough. on In every direction they will stretch out their hands, Leeds tempts us with the possibility that something will happen – and then when something is doing happen, we come to the elated realization that just about anything is possible on a Pendant album.
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