« on: February 26, 2013, 12:02:15 PM »
American composer Steve Brand has been quietly and steadily releasing a strong body of work since the early 90's, first as the ritual/industrial/drone project Augur, then under his own name around 2003, where his style switched from the more experimental to classic ambient. His often magical soundscapes celebrate the psychedelic intensity of nature's soul, much the same way as European kindred spirits like Alio Die, Vidna Obmana, and Oophoi, and American ambient masters Steve Roach and Robert Rich.
"Sunprints" was originally released on Atmoworks in 2010 but got somewhat "lost in the shuffle" during that label's closure. It now reappears on Brand's own Pioneer Light label, in association with Relaxed Machinery, with a bonus track included for this reissue, and it is unquestionably among his best works to date. Strikingly processed photo of Steve's black cat graces the cover art on this album of five long, quiet, intimate pieces which plays like the soundtrack to a moonlit garden under a gentle rain. 15 minute "Return of the Masters" begins with the cry of a conch shell, giving way to layers of nature sounds, gongs, shakers, shadowy even gloomy synth drones, spacious processing, and even a sample of his cat's vocalizations. 17 minute "Honoring the Beautiful Spirit (for Stefano)" I assume is dedicated to Stefano Musso (Alio Die). This piece effectively merges rain sounds with reverb-drenched gentle vocal chants, like a conjured up spirit of the late Jorge Reyes, strummed and plucked strings via zither and kora, and ethereal electronics. A very ritual-like track. The excellent "Scent of Olibanum" is a stunningly mesmeric piece for flutes and electronics with a flowing water soundscape that is haunting in its quiet intensity. A gorgeous track and my favorite of the whole album. The longest track, at 23 minutes, "The Sun is the Mother of the Moon," with its swells of airy electronics, feels like you're levitating out of this shadowy garden into the clouds for the first several minutes, morphing serenely into an Eno-like hymnal with beautifully emotive flute playing a la Rich, OYC, and TUU. Then about 15 minutes in Steve lays down some absolutely surreal processed didgeridoo that is just perfection! Another brilliant track!! The closer is the previously mentioned bonus track "Sunprints (The space where you used to be)", which is a logical continuation of themes explored on the previous track. A perfect ending to a flawless album.
Relaxed Machinery has also released Steve's companion album to "Sunprints," called "Our True Nature." This work is comprised of two 35-minute pieces exploring similar intimate terrain found on "Sunprints." Meditatively breathing electronic washes, nature sounds, bells, rainsticks and shakers form the first track, "True Nature," which is much less shadowy and dense overall than anything on "Sunprints," although some darker shades to appear towards the end. It's a nice enough track, but didn't do much for me. The second track, "Genuine Nature," however, has some amazing electronic textures and reminded me of David Sylvian's "Words With the Shaman" album (particularly the track "Preparations for a Journey") in conjuring up images of hidden rainforests and sacred sites. This piece is simply top-notch soundscaping, and even the black cat makes another cameo!
All in all, I can highly recommend these two fine works of Steve Brand to both the uninitiated and followers of his continuing high-quality ambient work. On a personal note, in my opinion there aren't many these days doing this kind of quiet, contemplative "nature music," and I think Steve Brand should be treasured in this regard as it is so needed in today's information overload/hi-tech world, where the simple beauty of life can be overlooked.