Despite experiencing a resurgence of late, ambient pop is an inherently delicate subgenre to master. On the surface, the form is oxymoronic, its existence predicated on the idea that music built around atmosphere can be melded with that which hinges on immediate hooks and hummable melodies. Being able to bring the highlights from both camps into a unified work is no small feat, but it’s a challenge the Albany duo Titanics meet on their debut album, Soft Treasure.
The brief, nine-track record clocks in at just under a half-hour, which itself bolsters the pervasive sensation of ephemerality. There is a feeling of being adrift, of wandering alone at night in a snowdrift-covered field while the lights of the city glow in the distance. Through it all, the listener is pulled along with the narrator by an unknown magnet, and members Mark Lombardo and Derek Rogers tap into that hard-to-pinpoint but instantly recognizable teenage feeling of wanderlust and confusion.
Opener “Low Frames” begins with funereal organ notes and background creaking and shuffling about. It spreads itself out to be dominated by metronomic drums in the foreground, backed by electric guitar strumming that offers a staid texture. In between verses, the dynamic switches with the fluid guitar lines rising to the fore. As a mantra, Lombardo repeats “And now we know it’s you / And now we know it’s you” over and over in his sympathetic and smooth voice. It’s a melancholy tune, steeped in an aching declaration of loyalty.
From there, the album’s pattern of alternating instrumental cuts and those with vocals is presented in the inverted title track “treasuresoft”. The catchiness of the previous track is foregone here, the cut being more of a mood piece than a true song, setting the scene of a satellite lost in space, complete with Pink Floyd-esque recorded dialogue popping up in the vacuum. Before it can last too long, “Cars” comes in with an electronic flavor capturing that youthful insouciance in Lombardo singing, “And all we are / Is parked in cars”. Taut snare drum strikes hit like brittle sticks breaking, wavering bleeps and a rollicking guitar solo carry the tune out, cementing its lasting impression as the record’s highlight.
Instrumental tracks like “Yoota” and “Clouds, Ponds, Myths” are initially led by solemn piano notes before being augmented by synthetic beats and other effects, serving as the type of music Major Tom might listen to on his exile through the Milky Way. “Table Bet”, another instrumental, epitomizes digital noir, rife with unsettling seduction. Come the album’s end, an energized resolve has asserted itself. “Two Days” feels hopeful both lyrically and musically, the movements from verses to chorus having a grandiosity too big for the otherwise relaxed album (the ‘80s guitar squalls are largely responsible for this, which isn’t a bad thing).
And just like that, Soft Treasure is over. Maybe too long to be an EP and too short to be a proper album, it nonetheless gives listeners just the right amount from Titanics to whet their appetites in anticipation of future, more fleshed-out releases.