Portuguese Ambient Duo HRNS Create Universally Human Music on 'Naomi' (album review)
On their debut Naomi, Portuguese duo HRNS channel memories and feelings into impressionistic ambient drones.
warm winters ltd
22 March 2019
In his film Summer Hours, French director Oliver Assayas draws immense evocative power from a simple narrative. Three siblings mourn the death of their mother. At first glance, there's nothing more to it. But between the sparse dialogues and long takes, scenes overflow with the wistful taste of fading memories. An unwanted nostalgia occupies each slow frame. For the protagonists, a world has ended. Assayas captures the emotional fallout of the loss of a loved one and the emptiness they leave behind with subtlety and warmth. On their debut Naomi – the first release on London's warm winters ltd, a spin-off of ambient label ACR – Portuguese duo HRNS (Rui P. Andrade and Afonso Arrepia Ferreira alias Farwarmth) make music a conduit for similar poetic and contemplative perceptions. "A yearning for true intimacy and closeness" poured into sonic flesh.
The seven cuts on Naomi feel like fragments of memories swallowed whole in hypnagogic states and shaped into gentle, assertive drones. Only partially reconstructed and full of cracks, but irreplaceable. Within them, traces of relationships and emotions become imprinted into melody. The impressionistic "White Heron" ripples with lush and bright sheets of white noise slit by high pitched synths. The thick sonic tapestry instills a sense of floatiness, as if being lost in a snowstorm and left in awe of its sheer, yet gentle power. Above all, it's a song that feels human and sets the stage for the rest of the record.
"You Will Never See the Same Water Twice" then explodes like a whisper of words that are meant to remain unheard and can be uttered only in solitude. It's an abstract piece which teeters with textures made into rhythms and incisive noises while voices and splashes of water appear and disappear beneath them. The atmosphere is sad and beautiful, melancholy, and hopeful. It conjures bittersweet images of places and moments that cannot be recaptured nor relived. Like watching washed out tapes of people long gone and trying to touch them through a screen. Like an imaginary field recording of sounds never produced.
Andrade and Farwarmth reshape their drones constantly. On the optimistic "Swan Palace", Auto-Tuned and synthetic vocals are brought to the front, slashing through a hazy mesh of synthesizers. Mutated baroque metonymies and echoes of harpsichords adorn the glitched and distorted "Prunes De Namur". Elsewhere, they veer towards the rare steady, almost aggressive rhythm of "Eurostar" – a pop song dissolved – before closing the record with the gorgeous "Angeles". Here, an elusive flow of muted thumps and waves of shoegaze is contrasted with the delicate whistling of wind brushing against microphones.
While this final track completely bares the duo's essence, the music throughout the record appears as a natural fusion of the musicians' individual sensibilities. Andrade's elegant fragility, precious found sounds, and warm warble of synths intertwine and become lost in Farwarmth's gusts of piercing intensity and moments of heady atonality.
There are reflections of ambient and drone music axioms on Naomi – effigies of Vangelis's Blade Runner soundtrack, most notably – but HRNS' music eludes the straightforward, associative semantics of sound. Instead, akin to Assayas' approach in film, Andrade and Farwarmth find and amplify affective chords in the spaces and dynamics between familiar noises. While primarily concerned with the insularity of people in our semi-virtual world, they seem to give voice to something much deeper. Something older. Something universally human.