Dreams are better than real life for the most part aren’t they? Last night for instance, your reviewer was travelling the world with Russell Brand. Best mates, we were, and the cities we visited were wonderful – soft, elaborate and entirely otherworldly. Of course, a night of the subconscious knocking about with Mr Brand is probably a lot of people’s (yours I’m sure) idea of a complete fucking nightmare. So…
Louisiana-born, Brooklyn-tethered femme de experimentia Julianna Barwick and Floridian of Ecuadorian heritage Helado Negro have created their first collaborative album here as Ombre, threads pulled together through touring alongside one another following a chance Myspace (ask your parents) encounter a few years back. There’s no doubt that what they do here is dream soundtracking – it has all the personal but vague, intense yet elusive, vivid then imperceptible qualities of the REM (no, not that one) experience, and, like the dream detailed above is something that will either speak to the listener on a connected, even spiritual plain, or fall completely flat, a dull chore. It has the potential to go either way.
When the focus is on Barwick’s oft-wordless, loop station languor of glossolalia, as it is for much of the time, you’re on to a winner – the dream is sweet. Her ghost tones shimmer across Negro’s often minimal, deceptively luscious instrumentation. The soft horns and slow, dawning string plucks that support the high range choir of ‘Noche Brilla’ is a brief and delicious introduction. This cloudy warmth is continued later on ‘Dawning’, a harp-led avant garde exercise in image-conjuring sound, offering the imagination all the shut-eye stimulation it needs for an out of body adventure.
There’s even better to be found on ‘The Nod’ – a spidery string of a song boasting Barwick chants and hand claps, and the wonderful ‘Pausa Primera’ where childhood chatter is sampled beneath Barwick’s lilt to affecting ends.
The Negro vocal-led tracks are something of a dead end unfortunately. Take the negligible cabaret shuffle of ‘Weight Those Words’ or ‘Tormentas’ a clubby cousin to ‘Visitate’ – an unusually straightforward Purity Ring kinda jag that nonetheless boasts a nice line in humming drone.
‘Cara Falsa’ is the see-saw balance melodic peak of the piece weighted against the most obscurist, ‘Sense’ – the former being a retro videogame Grimes stomp fed through a tease of “tune” that never quite arrives, the latter a home studio judder and tap-dance crackle maze of noise and static. It is impressive that Ombre can land both ends this effectively.
Here’s the thing though. This is all down to how pleasing you find a particular set of warped and illogical but textured and soothing sounds – there are no actual, defined and structured songs here aside from the couple mentioned earlier with Negro on lead that, uniformly, don’t work. Many will find this maddening, many will find the possibilities of roads never travelled by this pair of experimentalists an annoyance – why can’t they shape this into a fucking TUNE?! Ask them on Myspace, I guess.
Oh yeah, that dream stuff from the beginning of the review. Forgot about that. Ah, right here we go… for dedicated fans of ambient avant gardism this is a delightful nocturnal ramble indeed. For those in search of something more traditional and accessible it’ll be a little bit of a nightmare. Just like dreams about Russell Brand. Yep. Just like ‘em.