[15 April 2010]
When Tobacco released his first full-length, 2008’s Fucked Up Friends, it likely surprised no one that the album sounded quite similar to the host band of Tobacco, Black Moth Super Rainbow. As practical pioneers of glo-fi who put Boards of Canada on rollerskates, Black Moth Super Rainbow’s patented sound progressed in slight gradations, rather than mountainous sonic leaps. This reached its culmination in last year’s David Fridmann-produced Eating Us, which turned out to epitomize rather than transcend the sound the band had spent years working on. Other Black Moth Super Rainbow side projects succeeded only in extracting chunks of this sound. Power Pill Fist took the gristly remains of the acid-fried sunbaking droop and churned out raw 8-bit nostalgia chunks, some of it sounding like BMSR remixes. Even Ryan Mason’s Dreamend project seemed to be the shaky post-rock crumbs of what BMSR expunged since the time when they were the more boring Satanstompingcaterpillars.
The Seven Fields of Aphelion is, despite what the name might indicate, only one woman, Maux Boyle, the latest of the BMSRers to try their hand at solo work. Incredibly enough, in this instance you might not suspect a Black Moth Super Rainbow relationship at all, were you not informed ahead of time. Comprised of elegant daubs of synesthetic ambient watercolors, Periphery on the surface bears a closer resemblance to neo-classical composers like Max Richter and William Basinski than the helical scan Laffy-Taffytronics of BMSR’s mushroom-munching lot. One might wonder then why the Seven Fields of Aphelion would even retain her usual band pseudonym for this project, apart from, you know, team spirit, familial patriotism, and the like.
Perhaps the answer lies in the BMSR cover “Lake Feet”, which eliminates the acoustic guitar and tin-can recording aesthetic of the original (from Falling Through a Field) and replaces it with a gorgeous, piano-led, synth-droned take on the material. The vantage here is staring at the source material through the starlit reflection of a nearby pond, shrouded in enough haze that only the periphery is visible. Boyle imbues this version with a funereal solemnity that highlights the rarely discussed melancholy behind BMSR’s icy prosthetic cool. With this version, the Seven Fields of Aphelion pronounces by proxy that her parent group is worthy of the same deep contemplation that is regularly afforded the style of music she presents on Periphery.
From “Lake Feet”, one could imagine Boyle having offered a different path, that of reexamination, not unlike (in concept if not sonically) Sandro Perri’s take on his own Polmo Polpo material or Terre Thaemlitz’s meditations on Kraftwerk and Devo. I personally would have loved to hear her take on tracks like “Sun Lips” or “Smile Heavy” in this setting.
Nevertheless, the music presented here is of extremely high quality. It is ambient in ways that neither soundtrack nor soundscape, making Periphery an album that pretty much ignores the current flavors of beatless art music. That isn’t to say that there is no harmonic scrim obscuring the view on certain tracks, nor gauzy patches of shoegazey reverberation. All are present and welcomed. However, melody is the main draw in this music, as is apparent in juxtaposition of alien-flanged synths and stately piano in “Grown” and “Michigan Icarus”. Those two tracks retain a thematic consistency in their piano stanzas, and this recurrence is present throughout the album. The lulling infantile felicity of “Wildflower Wood” strings together nursery tones that recall the soft focus plinks of ISAN or Takagai Masakatsu. A couple songs in, those same sounds return, in the same key, on “Saturdation: Arrythmia”, although that track eventually builds up to a fuzzy arpeggio delirium that sounds like Oneohtrix Point Never contributing to Pop Ambient
Tracing ambient music way back to its modernist origins, one can still witness, in the Seven Fields of Aphelion, Debussy’s whole-note overtones and Satie’s perseveration. If Periphery’s biggest failing is that it presents nothing new, the pleasure of that stasis and its ability to recontextualize Boyle’s previous work is well worth the trip. Periphery is wholly unexpected, but makes perfect sense after you’ve given it a run-through.