Throwing Snow: Embers

Rather than building on one another, the tracks making up Embers largely drag the listener through their gloomy uniformity.

Throwing Snow


Label: Houndstooth
US Release Date: 2017-01-20
UK Release Date: 2017-01-20

What draws people to "eerie" music? For anyone who might use the word "creepy" derisively, there are at least as many others who would substitute more endearing terms to describe the same effect: "haunting", "spectral", "mysterious". Many of us enjoy the sense of connection to something ineffable, uncanny, even powerful that dark music can sometimes bring. It's an easy thing to mess up as well: take too many obvious shortcuts, and you've got yourself a Halloween costume instead of a genuine sense of otherworldliness.

I was surprised to find that Ross Tones' description of Embers, his latest project as Throwing Snow, makes no mention of witchcraft, séances, the occult, or anything else along those lines. Listening to the record, one gets the sense that the album is squarely aimed at evoking gothic, spooky vibes. It is odd then to visit his Bandcamp page and find that it is in fact supposed to be about the "laws and patterns of the natural world". True, the record is clearly cyclical, starting and ending with the sound of literal crackling embers with each track in between flowing seamlessly into the next. Other than some additional bird and rain samples, however, that's about where Tones' mission statement for the album stops resonating with the end result. Embers sounds far too constricted and forced, effectively and musically, to sound like a meditation on the natural world. Instead, its hour-long runtime is packed with a somber, self-conscious ghoulishness that makes it something of a slog to get through, albeit one with occasional high points.

Especially during its first half, Embers follows a pattern where lengthy stretches of subdued, looped ambiance and gently plucked Medieval strings eventually give way to a heavier beat. Once the gentle ominousness of "Cantor's Dust, Pt. 1" transitions into the lurching, oozing, bass-heavy drop of part two, the framework for the rest of the album has more or less been set. That said, these moments of punctuation provide some of the album's highlights, and Embers is at its best when it features a strong backbone of some kind. Tones has a knack for choosing compelling beats, drawing on Burial-esque rawness on "Ruins", war drums on "Klaxon", and syncopated rhythms on both sections of "Prism".

Still, the predictable formula by which these highlights arrive quickly grows tiresome. One comes to expect each variation in the aural landscape, and the moments start to lose their impact. The within-track repetition is rarely rewarding either, coming across less as disciplined meditation and more like compulsiveness, circling in an unsatisfying loop as on "Cosms" and "Recursion". Every so often, the elemental components of a particular track arrange themselves in just such a way that the formula comes back to life, as on the finale "Tesseract", which employs a thick, doomy, cobweb-laden keyboard riff over a commanding beat. Rather than accumulating meaning over the course of the album, however, the tracks making up Embers largely drag one another down through their gloomy uniformity, blunting the force of their strongest moments.

For many albums, one hour is perfectly acceptable, but on Embers the material proves far too inert and stationary to justify such a length. Its lofty conceptual ambitions rarely translate effectively. The "natural world" that inspired the album is a complex, multifarious place, by turns graceful yet messy, unforgiving yet impartial, but Throwing Snow's latest does not do justice to those environmental paradoxes. Instead, he hones in rigidly on a narrow conception of darkness and foreboding that grows stale. This rigidity gives the album a closed-off feel that ultimately constricts the flow of emotion and makes for a cumbersome listen.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.