For some time now, Adam Forkner has been quietly working with some of the best musicians in the northwestern US — he has recorded with Phil Elvrum, Thanksgiving, Calvin Johnson, Jackie-O Motherfucker, and members of Modest Mouse, among others. Solo, he records under the moniker White Rainbow, which he started as a series of CD-Rs in the early 2000s. New Clouds is his third LP, and second for Kranky. On his last two albums, Forkner created washes of sound that recall ambient pioneers like Eno and Young, but New Clouds carries that aesthetic to new areas.
Following his last release, Forkner toured with labelmates Valet (who he collaborates with in various ways, including the side project World) and Atlas Sound. And what he took from their music and applied to his own is a sense of scope: this album is more expansive than anything he’s recorded yet, and that’s not just because of the extended track lengths. Here, the percussion is much more dominant, the guitars more forceful, and the synths more distorted. It all adds up to the same trance-inducing effect, but Forkner seems more confident in his approach.
Prism of Eternal Now, Forkner’s last album as White Rainbow, featured tracks such as “Pulses”, “For Terry”, and “April 25 11:14 PM”, all of which allude to minimalist pioneers — Steve Reich, Terry Reilly, and La Monte Young, respectively. That album, to some extent, was an experiment in recreating those artists’ techniques for the post-millennial zeitgeist. On New Clouds, Forkner has expanded his approach and created a much more distinctive sound. There are more hand drums and washes of guitar, but he deftly avoids any attempt at pigeonholing his music as “new age” or “ambient”, as those sounds may suggest. It is much too focused for the former, and much too engaging for the latter. Instead, it strikes a balance between the two to create a world that is constantly shifting between ancient tribal beats and futuristic drones and hums.
New Clouds is divided into four parts that act less as songs than sections of one overarching composition. Each song carries the album forward under its own momentum, but acts with the other songs as one thematic whole as well. The shortest track here is just under 13 minutes, which is a substantial leap from Prism‘s song lengths. And although that may be intimidating to some listeners, the effect is worth the effort. If these songs were shortened to more manageable lengths, they would lose the subtlety that they achieve with their slow dynamics. This record is best listened to when you have something to stare at — the road, Tetris, your feet — because a lot of attention must be paid to it to follow its shifting tensions between stasis and change. Perhaps more than any of his other albums, New Clouds realizes something that Forkner has previously only hinted at: the secret to making this type of music, whether you call it ambient, experimental, or whatever, is negotiating the space between movement and stasis. It just took a larger canvas for him to get the details right.
While New Clouds never achieves the sheer beauty of “Warm Clicked Fruit” or “Guilded Golden Ladies”, it is ultimately much more transcendent than either Prism of Eternal Now or Zome. Its a synthesis of all of Forkner’s previous experiments, refined and expanded for the big screen.