Despite the dancing silhouette adverts, people seem to be using their iPods in much more sedate ways. The headphone cord hinders motion, after all; countless iPods clatter under treadmills daily due to runners entangled in cords. Instead of dancing with them, people are simply substituting iPods for jukeboxes. As a home stereo, the iPod particularly excels, due to its large memory and random playlist function. And while an iPod only plays what is inside it, the term “iPod music” could describe the minimal electronic background music that many urban iPod owners favor. With Early Morning Migration, Ezekiel Honig and Morgan Packard have created quintessential iPod music.
Strangely enough, Honig and Packard both cut their teeth on late ‘90s drum & bass. Honig was a DJ, and Packard was a producer, but each moved away from d&b as the music stagnated. On Technology Is Lonely and Peoples Places & Things, Honig added a uniquely emotional spin to the glitchy minimal house of Mille Plateaux and Force Inc., while Packard delved into academic music with composition studies and software programming. Although the two wrote tunes separately for this album, the result sounds like one person. Honig’s clean tones and simple (but not simplistic) melodies combine with Packard’s deep sound design and emotive harmonies for a pensive, soothing vibe.
The album begins with the slow-motion shoegazing of “Tropical Ridges”, which has a grainy yet full-bodied ambience, with a hint of kick drum underneath. “Balm” follows, and it’s exactly that. Its gorgeous, gauzy tones, along with “Window Nature” bring to mind Shudder to Think’s lovely (and ill-used) soundtrack to High Art. In general, Honig and Packard alternate tunes here; Honig’s are slightly more rhythmic, creating a gently undulating listen. The album peaks with the found sound percussion of “Planting Broken Branches, Pt. 1”, then returns to beatlessness with the trembling, Bill Frisell-esque “A Lake of Suggestions Pt. 2” and the jellyfish pulsation of “A Long Time Ago”.
Early Morning Migration could be called “ambient”, but it has no spacy synth washes or new age-y melodies. It’s ambient in the Brian Eno sense, enhancing the atmosphere of whatever room it’s in. The album does reward active listening; repeated spins uncover deep bass melodies in “Hibernate”, rich brass (!) harmonies in “White on White”, and the polyrhythms of out-of-time loops in “Planting Broken Branches, Pt. 2”. But at low volumes, this album shines as a soundtrack to everyday life. Wake up to it, fall asleep to it, read a book to it, or skin up to it—the ceiling’s the limit.