Implodes, a Chicago ambient quartet, haven’t covered a lot of terrain, yet. Their 2011 Kranky debut Black Earth was deceptively simple ambient-drone fare, weighed down by darkness and small sharp slivers of light. Black Earth‘s album cover—an ominously horror-themed image—captured and distilled their essence in a single image. Here was a band that might be frightening, manipulative, and heavily invested in their musical aesthetic. So much so that a colleague at work asked me if I was listening to a haunted house sound effects disc the first time I played it.
Black Earth is still a dense listen, one that revealed more than simple distorted guitar drones and echoed voices over several listens. It’s a maze of sharp corners, occasional drums, and buried vocals. It’s disjointed but never forgettable. While Recurring Dream, the band’s follow-up to Black Earth, retains only the bare minimum of those qualities.
Implodes has still chosen a haunted image for their album cover. In contrast to the darkness and shadow of the previous album’s subject, the house is literally shot through with light. The shadows are less visible, the weight is gone, and the light is clearly artificial. It’s this artifice, this feeling of a musical facade on Recurring Dream that makes it sit uneasily—more so than the darkest moments on Black Earth. Recurring Dream plays out its eleven tracks like a surface-level tweaking of the band’s ambient sound. They’re cramming more guitars, more drums, more vocals, more layers into songs that once stood on their own with a lesser, more intense sound.
“Scattered In the Wind” is the first introduction to their left turn; though, oddly, it’s the only track on the album that has any momentum or staying power. It contains a thundering vocal line that mirrors the heavy bass stomp of the now-prominent drums. The song drops out a few minutes and a singular guitar riff echoes throughout the space as the vocals drown in a vapor trail. As a single moment, it works. If only because it demonstrates Implodes’ ability to manipulate dynamics on a whim. But there are no more moments like this that “fit” within the sequencing of the tracks. “Sleepyheads”, “Zombie Regrets”, and “Necronomics” are tonally indistinguishable. But the real pain comes from just how utterly boring and unmotivated they sound. From their titles alone, the band checks in with the horror-themed aesthetic they’ve embraced, but with the addition of high-pitched guitar noodling on top of the tracks, they now sound like a less assured Pink Floyd.
Much of Recurring Dream is spent waiting: waiting for the sounds to match the titles, for the intentions to match the vision, and for the endless squealing guitar riffs to mercilessly cease. The first few tracks give the implication of leading up to something grand, but it never materializes. The rest of the album treads the same banal path. “Ex Mass” and “Melted Candle” never let up and their four and five-minute run times don’t help. “You Wouldn’t Know It” repeats the same sloppy guitar riff ad infinitum with zero change. And album ender “Bottom of the Well” describes itself quite well: it’s claustrophobic, remote, and ends not as a grand note, but rather as a mercy killing.
Comparing the only two Implodes albums so closely might be unfair; each album from a band, especially a relatively new one, should stand alone without context. However, embracing the minimalism that the ambient-drone-instrumental genre operates in can feel limiting, and there seems like an effort to carry over much of their foundation and build upon it. Opening track “Wendy 2” seemingly refers back to Black Earth’s “Wendy”, and “Wendy 2” opens with a similar ambient keyboard tone. Maybe Implodes set up Recurring Dream to pick-up where Black Earth initially left off, before inverting their formula.
Implodes have eschewed the “addition by subtraction” mantra opting instead to force a few crooked melody lines and some stale recurring guitar riffs. Recurring Dream is the band’s attempt to carry their sound forward by small steps. But these small steps are a slog, and Recurring Dream trips on its own repetition.