Viscous Solids begins with the slowly rising sound of an altered acoustic guitar. The chords have been warped and elongated, evaporated almost to the point of intangibility. This is how sound functions in Aeroc’s world: delicately and very sedately.
For myself and many others Ghostly International Records first hit the map earlier this year with the release of Matthew Dear’s Leave Luck to Heaven. Considering that electronic music has been at best ignored, and at worst belittled by the mainstream music press since approximately the summer of 1999, it was quite unusual to see Leave Luck to Heaven receive plaudits from such substantial outlets as Rolling Stone magazine. Based on this pedigree, I was intrigued to see what else Ghostly had up their collective sleeves.
If there’s any unifying theme to link Viscous Solids with Leave Luck to Heaven, it would have to be the crisp and controlled nature of the programming, an overarching sense of discipline and economy that permeates both albums. You could probably guess as much about the label from their logo, an image of a two-eyed ghost illustrated in as simple a manner as possible. Simplicity and understatement are the orders of the day.
But simplicity does not necessarily translate to simple-mindedness. Geoff White, the mastermind behind Aeroc, has obviously worked very hard to create a deeply satisfying work of sonic restraint, an album that flirts with abstract ambient but ultimately chooses to walk the more difficult path between the ethereal and the concrete.
The entire album was composed of samples taken from White’s guitar playing. Every beat, every bassline, and every wafting synth line was apparently constructed from these meager sonic resources. It says a lot for White’s ingenuity as a musician in specific, and about the elasticity of sound in 2004 in general, that such a rich and emotive work could come from such a seemingly limiting technical exercise. Albums like Viscous Solids point to a perpetually dawning future wherein sound will be mined in its raw, unrefined state, and musicians will be able to create music in the manner of sculptors, shorn from the limitations of physical performance and limited only by the limitless imagination of the composer.
But we’re not there yet. Aeroc is a skilled composer but, as with Dear, he is also just too refined for his own good. Restraint can be an admirable quality in a prodigiously talented musician, but it can also be a frustrating quality in a composer of moderate or mediocre talent. Oftentimes throughout the course of Viscous Solids you find yourself wishing that the ethereal would cohere, to build into something greater than merely the sum of its many beautiful parts, but except for scattered flashes of brilliance the album never actually condenses into a magnificent whole.
The first track on the album, “My Love, The Wave Break”, is a perfect example of this frustrating dynamic at work. The design of the track is exemplary, featuring a series of slowly cascading melody lines swaying behind a shuffling beat. But the multiple elements never build into anything greater than the mere fact of their verisimilitude: pleasant things happen in nicely balanced precision for almost five minutes but in the end the track fails to build to a significant climax, merely ebbing away into an ambient lull.
This ambient lull gives way to another track, “Mahy”, again built around the dichotomy between a mellow rhythm section and a series of mutated melody lines. “Mahy” is a more satisfying track than “My Love, The Wave Break”, and it builds to a slightly more satisfying climax, but it still lacks a certain element of compulsion.
“Wish Eyes” is a break from the first two major tracks, as it builds more directly on the ambient lull that precedes it, pulling a satisfyingly somber breakbeat pattern out of the primordial soup. “Rusted Dress Up” combines the dark rhythm of “Wish Eyes” with the more studied melodic composition of the album’s early tracks, and also manages to interject the only moments of slight funk into an otherwise very somber project.
The album’s best track is also its last, “Summer’s Almost Over”. On an album defined by its pleasant restraint, it comes the closest to expressing something more insistent, of building into something greater than the sum of its parts. There’s actual tension between the various coruscating guitar samples, as the repetitive melodies become indistinguishable from the rhythm and the track builds to a sublime — if sublimely understated — climax.
I would predict a bright future for Aeroc. He’s certainly got the talent, based on the evidence of Viscous Solids, but I sincerely hope that he manages to inject more passion, more urgency into his future work. What we have here is an album that straddles the fine line between musical virtuosity and bloodless dilettantism, a work of subtle charms and great promise — but this promise remains fraught with the equally great peril of potential irrelevancy.