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Music

Ross Goldstein's 'Timoka' Is an Ominous Collection of Dark Instrumental Beauty

Photo: Ted Barron / Courtesy of Clandestine Label Services

Composer Ross Goldstein forges a challenging musical path on his latest album, Timoka, a wondrous collection of dark, often bleak instrumental compositions.

Timoka
Ross Goldstein

Birdwatcher

31 January 2020

Over the past couple of years, composer Ross Goldstein has undergone something of a musical transformation, and it's one that shows the artist moving along a unique new path with fascinating results. While his 2017 album Inverted Jenny was a twisted slice of stoner psychedelia, its follow-up, The Eighth House, saw Goldstein ditching guitars, vocals, bass – essentially everything but the atmospheric sounds of the Mellotron (as well as its precursor, the Chamberlin), to create ominous instrumental tracks that take full advantage of the vintage instrument's sampling capabilities.

Timoka is proof that The Eighth House wasn't just a one-off experiment from a musician with a new toy. It could easily be perceived as a sequel to its predecessor. Using a digital version of the Mellotron, Goldstein has crafted yet another collection of songs that sound like they were plucked from the soundtrack of a classic horror film or dystopian drama. The music has a heavy, tangible darkness associated with it. Comparisons can be made to Wendy Carlos' score for A Clockwork Orange, as well as Giorgio Moroder's more ruminative pieces from Midnight Express.

Opening track "Obsidian Cat" sets the scene. An ethereal choir is followed by low, droning strings, wind instruments, and baroque tidbits straight out of "Strawberry Fields Forever". It has the feel of a vintage 1970s cult classic. The mood goes from mildly innocent to downright ominous with "Tiptoes in the Foam" as a cello sample lays down the menace like brackish swamp water. Occasional gong smashes and the isolated plucking of strings heighten the tension. In many ways, this is beautiful music, but I'd be terrified to listen to it in a dark room late at night.

There's a sparse atonality to songs like "Lunar Day", as small, tentative bursts of guitar come out of nowhere, and the odd percussion jolt keeps things nicely off-kilter. The great thing about the Mellotron – even Goldstein's more contemporary digital version – is that it creates a sort of primitive warmth. It comes off as sampling in its purest form. Goldstein understands the potency of this kind of back-to-basics atmosphere building. When "Pink Broom" mixes creepy wind samples with the simple drone of strings, it continues to evoke the feel of a horror score, but it's nicely tempered with a far more experimental track like "Bas-Relief", which revels in found sounds and a curious sense of randomness. It feels less like a composition and more like the twisted demo reel of a Foley artist.

Goldstein closes out Timoka with the almost Zen-like minimalism of "Ptyx", and the exotic skronk of "Double Solitaire", as if to add a few more sub-genres to this wondrous collection of dark, often bleak instrumental compositions. The album is not exactly a shock to fans of Ross Goldstein's previous works, but anyone who enjoys the many pleasures of The Eighth House will be positively delighted here.

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