[14 June 2006]
I’m not sure if it’s refreshing or distressing to see such humility conveyed via album title. Klimek’s latest album is called Music to Fall Asleep, and to be sure, it does manage to work as advertised. Even so, even the most chilled-out ambient artist will usually admit the desire, however secondary, that listeners pay attention to their music rather than save it for the background as an aid in reaching the realm of REM sleep. Is it a shedding of delusions or an acquiescence of inferiority? Or is Klimek just being cheeky?
Aside from that particular unresolved (and, really, fairly unimportant) debate, there’s very little about Music to Fall Asleep that’s controversial in the slightest. It’s ambient as ambient can be, without even beats to get in the way of the thick, soupy brand of atmosphere that Klimek dabbles in. It’s pleasant enough, you can play it in front of people who like Celine Dion without driving them completely out of the room, and it even features some instruments that are recognizable to the human ear. Most notably, the guitar is all over this album, and for an artist who dabbles so often in a genre called “drone”, Klimek is really quite attached to it. It’s for this reason that Klimek has brought on a name for himself a step beyond many other drone and ambient artists—his use of the guitar allows for a more earthy, recognizable listening experience that actually manages to incorporate melody every so often. Given that melody is generally avoided like the plague in the world of ambient music, its presence is sure to raise a few eyebrows.
(An aside: On Music to Fall Asleep, Klimek has gone the Hail to the Thief route and given each song two titles. The difference here is that he has mixed them together, allowing us to tell them apart via the color of the text. There’s no particular visible reason that I can see for titling his tracks this way other than a need to be, well, artsy, but he did—so get ready for some odd track titles.)
Klimek’s best moments are when he gives in wholeheartedly to the gods of melody and makes a lovely series of notes, rather than simply a monotone drone, and allows that melody to carry the song. “Working Towards Yuppies with Independence Jeeps” is a pleasant little number with a lilting guitar that could almost be part of a soft pop song. A small motif is played, and then it just hangs in the air, sometimes accompanied by distant static, soft strings, or the sound of heat rising off of blacktop on a hundred-degree day. Rather than a “drone”, it’s simply atmosphere, sleepy, effective, and surprisingly memorable. Title-ish track “Music to Fall Eintagaus Asleep” features some beautiful guitar work as well, though the dominant sound throughout is something that sounds like a heavily processed violin, playing the high notes above the vaguely classical, slow picking of the guitar. The violin sound is harsh (at least as far as this album goes), and it adds another unexpected texture to what is, at its base, a rather unimpressive drone.
Unfortunately, that last betrays the primary failing of Music to Fall Asleep—once you get past the traditional instruments, the drones themselves are pretty rote. In the interestingly titled “Kingdoms Here We Wiggin’ by Night Come”, there’s just a singular, minor-chord drone, some occasional highly delay-effected sound effects, and an insistent, if quiet, percussive pulse. The drone does shift, but there’s nothing about it that makes you care that it’s going to shift, so mostly, it becomes background for whatever you’re doing while waiting for the next track (and, hopefully, something better). There’s also the recurring feel of a CD player quickly skipping throughout the album, as sounds are very quickly looped such that the quick pulses sound like longer, continuous tones, even though the individual sounds are anything but continuous. The trick is neat on the first track, but by the time 60 minutes have passed and Klimek is using it on the final track, it’s a trick that’s outplayed itself. Klimek does fairly well making his atmosphere sound appropriately thick and mysterious, but he seems very limited in his ideas on how to create it.
Which, I suppose, is why he feels the need to introduce the organic. The guitars and other string instruments throughout Music to Fall Asleep are the album’s most attractive traits, as they allow Klimek to expand his palette and give his listeners something to pay attention to. Everything else, however, is simply background noise, whose sole purpose is implied in the very title of the album. Even as the album works toward its (supposed) intent, it simply doesn’t always work as music.