Where does minimalism end and ambient begin?
Bing & Ruth are a minimalist collective that aspire to the heights of Steve Reich, Morton Feldman, Gavin Bryans, and Brian Eno. No offense to composer/pianist David Moore and his current lineup of musicians – Jeremy Viner and Patrick Breiner on clarinets, Leigh Stuart on Cello, Jeff Ratner and Greg Chudzik on upright basses, and Mike Effenberger working the tape delay – but only one of those big-shot influences name-dropped in their press release actually comes to my mind when listening to Tomorrow Was the Golden Age. What I hear is the Penguin Café Orchestra rising from the dead, popping a pill, chasing it down with a glass of wine, and lying down in a field to contemplate stuff! This is not a criticism. Bing & Ruth spin a very enveloping sound here, one that comes across as more ambient and dreamy than clinically minimal. It also makes for a lousy listen on your laptop speakers. Listening to Tomorrow Was the Golden Age through a computer tower accomplishes almost nothing. You need headphones for this one.
Tomorrow is divvied up into nine tracks though they seem to just flow from one to another like one continuous piece of music. It starts off like a stretch and a yawn, where rapidly soft piano arpeggios are mixed down to the point of being ether. Effenberger plays back a light echo of what Moore has performed while the strings and the clarinets conjure together a series of odd harmonies that brings opener "Warble" slowly to life. There are moments where you think you hear a keyboard of guitar feedback, so it's to everyone's credit that those things were never used. As one track turns to another, there are small yet noticeable shifts in the musical figures but never in the overall mood. All nine tracks in Tomorrow Was the Golden Age keep their dynamics low to the ground and the cycles take their time their development and eventual unraveling (the tracks average around the six minute range).
And since Tomorrow Was the Golden Age appears to exist as a 57-minute blob (at least from a 1000-foot view), it can be challenging to point out one track as a standout and explain why that is. As I see it, the album has at least two centerpieces, one coming close to concluding the first side and the second sitting squarely in the middle of the second. "Police Police Police Police Police" – that really is a track's title – is built upon another soft-yet-swift arpeggiated figure from Moore. Effenberger turns the clarinet lines into ghostly echoes while the rest of Bing & Ruth raise their two-chord harmony up and up some more. The piece falls away before it has a chance to reach full volume. Three tracks later is "We Are on the Side of Angels", a feather-light piano introduction in search of an anchor that it eventually finds in soft rumbling samples. Everyone plays so quietly it's sometimes difficult to tell if they are playing at all. The piece fades even subtler than it began.
These are the traits that stand out to me when I listen to Tomorrow Was the Golden Age. But I can be completely wrong. Maybe David Moore charted out the whole thing differently and I need to recalibrate my sense of rise-and-fall. That's the thing with this kind of music -- it's as subjective in its meaning and objective as it is in quality, perhaps even more so. The best course of action I can recommend is to see for yourself if I'm wrong.