As Anjou, Mark Nelson and Robert Donne make ambient music at its grandest scale. Their spacious, gentle synths evoke concepts of great magnitudes, like music that planets could dance to. Epithymía, the duo’s second full-length release, molds a sense of sublime wonder through its six tracks, consisting of four ambient suites and two shorter interludes. Like much of their genre, Anjou’s music does not dwell so much upon humanity as examine the vastness and incomprehensibility of the world surrounding us. It is rarely a cold record, however; Anjou are less invested in portraying an indifferent universe as they are in suggesting a sense of awe and mystery. In that respect, the album maintains its humanity throughout despite the cosmic order of its concerns.
“Culcinae” functions as a ten-minute microcosm of the album as a whole. The track can be roughly divided into three parts: it begins with soft, dewy synths suggestive of a tranquil dawn, before distantly clattering cymbals give way to a noisy, droning midsection. The cyclic creation/destruction myth becomes all the more inescapable when the track resurfaces in its final minutes with a gorgeously ascending synth-bass line, one of the album’s most gratifying and stunning moments.
Whereas “Culcinae” traffics in movement and transition, the buoyant “Soucouyant” is a meditation on a more singular musical theme. The track evokes the sense of being carried atop gently undulating waves, bobbing along with the ebb and flow of the water. It is one of the lighter moments on Epithymía, managing a swiftness despite its lack of beats that brings to mind Huerco S.‘s masterful For Those of You Who Have Never (and Also Those Who Have).
If most of the album is ethereal and expansive, the two interludes, “Greater Grand Crossing” and “Glamr”, offer brief respites from its wide-openness. Both are dank, cavernous numbers that seem to retreat underground as they carry us along to the next spectacle. While perhaps serving as necessary punctuation for the album as a whole, they are not necessarily the most appealing pieces here. “An Empty Bank” seems at first to carry over the interludes’ musty weight, beginning with several minutes of humid horns that suggest a spacious yet relatively inert piece. Gradually, however, the track swells to greater proportions. It eventually coalesces into a subtle interplay between grainy, buzzing static and gentle, somber, deeply hued synths, becoming one of the record’s most affecting moments.
“Georgia”, the album’s closing track, is its most sinister and threatening offering. If many of the pieces here sound celestial in some way, “Georgia” is the black hole of the bunch. The electronics shudder and moan out of its abyss, gaping like a wound. Faint, unidentifiable sounds hiss from the darkness before retreating into obscurity. Even here, the synths cohere over time into a reverential awe, marveling at the beauty of this strange world even as they demonstrate its potential for danger and destruction.
Epithymía does not advance an argument for the universe as either fundamentally benevolent or sinister. Rather, it makes the unrelenting case that the beauty of the world does not hinge on either of these characteristics and that it is worthy of our wonder regardless. Listening to the album is like wandering blindfolded through a vast cave, aware of and very nearly apprehending the magnitude and significance of one’s surroundings while never grasping or understanding them entirely. Anjou have crafted a transcendent and moving ambient record, invoking not just the cosmos but also the human subjective experience of the universe’s strange and forbidding beauty.
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