James Johnson & Aperus: Ecotone
Matthew J Harris, Hypnos Forum
I just received this in the mail on Friday. It's been so long since there has been a release from James and I treasure the various Cube CDs I have, so I was really looking forward to this. My feeling is that James has been one of the best at long or short-form, seemingly "organic", gorgeous environments. Not simply droney, but subtle, quiet, and beautiful. My six-year old daughter often falls asleep to his Cubes and not everything fits that bill. His being dormant has seemed a shame. I have also been familiar with and impressed by McWilliams' music so the pairing was promising.
The first thing I noticed was the very attractive and tasteful packaging. But beautiful packaging will annoy me in the end if the music doesn't live up to it.
Happily, the music is wonderful. This music is varied. At times it is benevolent, lighter, and gorgeous. At other times it has a darkness, a doubt, a discomfort. But be clear, while these tracks clearly can challenge the listener in ways, it is never difficult to listen to. Even in the darker sections it is beautiful, not jarring, and very listenable. While most ambient music is created by single musicians I think this CD is a testament to the benefits of collaboration. It feels more rounded, it feels like someone was there to cover the blind spots of each musician.
This is not a retreading of the earlier work of either musician. The sound of the disc as a whole feels like a clear statement of intention to do something new, but it is still familiar. With the tremendous quantity of ambient music available, I find that there is a small percentage that I really, really value. This will certainly be in that category.