The title Nomad may be a little too on the nose. The South Korean/Japanese couple that makes up the core members of TENGGER — Itta on vocals and harmonium and Marqido on synthesizers — take their musical cues from annual pilgrimages to exotic locales, translating their observations into lush, unique soundscapes. It’s part electronic and part environmental, new age without all the desultory navel-gazing that goes along with that term, and wholly intoxicating. Combining synthetic sounds with those reminiscent of nature can be a tough trick to pull off convincingly. Fortunately, this is an area TENGGER knows all too well, and as a result, there are few if any missteps throughout the album’s 36-minute run time.
On the opening “Achime”, peaceful droning combines with distorted synth lines and angelic vocalizing, making for a puzzling yet soothing mix of the synthetic and the organic. This is familiar territory for TENGGER — providing a buzzing experience that shows a knack for the adventurous yet is also oddly and innocently spiritual. On the appropriately titled “Bliss”, the sounds of birds and water gradually shift to warm, sustained chords and choral elements, creating not so much a conventionally structured song but more of a shapeless hymn. “Us” also travels along the same path, with the water/synth combination providing an aural experience that may not break artistic ground but is undeniably mesmerizing.
TENGGER’s previous album, last year’s Spiritual 2, contained more of an emphasis on beats, which only show up here on the track “Eurasia”, as a soothing but insistent rhythm forms the song’s core and brings to mind the more keyboard-oriented side of classic krautrock. “Water” also contains a hint of a tempo, as the warm fuzz of the keyboard sequence, mixed with Itta’s ethereal vocalizing, creates something of a low-key take on synthpop.
But Nomad is really more of an ambient collection than anything else. Itta’s vocals bring to mind the otherworldly arrangements of Julianna Barwick, and echoes of the kind of krautrock mined by Neu and Popul Vuh in the ’70s indeed show up in places. But in the end, the combination of influences, both musical and travel-related, form a unique experience. It would be slightly inaccurate and perhaps a bit insulting to refer to this beautiful album as “relaxation music”, because there are moments of striking beauty that would gently rouse even the most overtired, stressed-out listener.
Still, bliss is all over Nomad. The ten-minute closer “Flow” begins with the sound of lush chords chugging away as vocals come in and out and float over the layers of synths. The omnipresent flow of water makes another appearance. Ever so slowly, sounds build upon sounds, but it never seems overbearing. It’s swaddling, enveloping. Nomad is music to get lost within.