Atmosphere is the key factor in much ambient and/or experimental music. Brian Eno’s output in the 1970s, which many would argue set the standard for ambient music in the decades to follow, specialized in a calm, pastoral atmosphere. On the other side of the spectrum, an artist like Gnaw Their Tongues makes the listener seriously consider the idea that she may have actually died and been cast down into the most torturous pits of hell, with an atmosphere focused entirely on oppression and horror.
Exactly what qualifies as ambient music and exactly what the term ‘experimental’ signifies, is the subject of much nerdy debate, but it is probably safe to say that Evan Caminiti’s music qualifies as both. His atmosphere, like a great deal of ambient music, attempts to evoke vast open spaces and star-lit vistas. The listener imagines voluminous airplane hangars or space shuttle launch sites, not unlike Eno’s much loved odes to airports. On his new record Meridian, Evan Caminiti evokes a dark, but not especially menacing atmosphere. While not nearly as safe and dreamy as some of Eno’s classic work, it certainly does not approach the appalling racket of Gnaw Their Tongues, whose name is quite literally descriptive of the music’s effect on the listener. Although Meridian is difficult not to like, it also is difficult to distinguish from many similar examples being produced.
Meridian is ambient music of the distinctly electronic variety. If there are traditional instruments being used here, I can’t hear them. The layers of synth and tinkling electronic effects are major factors in what gives this record that ‘waiting in the dark of the night to board the space shuttle’ vibe. This is music for zoning out, not necessarily music for excruciatingly intense introspection or epiphanies. The tracks on Meridian do not reach the kinds of shuddering, eye-rolling climaxes that Ben Frost perfected on his last record, nor do they achieve the stark, minimalistic melancholy of Aphex Twin’s ambient pieces, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. These are tracks to abide in, to float in, and to consider. Although these tracks do tend to just float off into the either, without striking the listener with much real violence, that seems to be Caminiti’s intention.
If you need melody, hooks, or clear focus, than Meridian is probably not for you. With that in mind, listeners expecting those things were probably barking up the wrong tree in the first place. Ambient, drone, noise, and experimental music should create a place in your mind that did not exist before. At its best this type of music should evoke half-forgotten childhood memories of snowstorms or high fevers. Meridian mostly succeeds in this and fans of the genre will not be displeased by it. New fans, folks who do not spend significant amounts of time staring at bodies of water and listening to Eno/Fripp collaborations, will probably not be won over by Meridian. While less abrasive than some examples of the genre, Meridian is also less distinctive or original.
There are moments on Meridian, such as on the excellent closing track ‘Mercury,’ that evoke an 80s, Blade Runner-ish vibe. Lots of people adore that sound, myself included, and Meridian is often able to scratch that itch. If it is difficult to find fault with Meridian, it is also difficult to find reasons to choose it over more accomplished and extraordinary music of a similar kind.