James Johnson & Aperus - Ecotone

Rik MacLean, Ping Things

I think that James Johnson and Brian McWilliams (aka Aperus) are both very talented musicians, each having produced some truly stunning work over the last few years. So it would stand to reason that by working together they would make something even more stunning in collaboration, right? "Ecotone" by James Johnson and Aperus is a beautiful and brilliant release that proves that theory, capturing all the best qualities of each artist and building on their separate gifts to create a truly impressive album.

"Descending Arc'' opens the disc with metallic percussion and other percussive sounds, a feeling of mysticism that plays over top a subtly droning pad. As the track progresses other elements are added, slowly building an engaging and involved aural landscape for the listener to explore.

"Cycle 17" follows, with oscillating tones running in randomly spaced sine waves. It makes for an interesting aural experience with a number of short patterns and appealing motifs being randomly formed throughout the course of the track. A very interesting example of generative music.

"Nostalgia and Memory" is a short track that uses a distorted warble as an anchor for a number of sounds and moods. Add some sparse piano playing a rather forlorn melody and you end up with a particularly emotional piece of music, a decidedly moody track that I quite enjoy.

"Crow Over Walnut Canyon" is another piano piece, slightly more melodic in character with a slightly brighter feel to it. There's some nice use of echo and delay here that give the track a vaguely haunted feeling, but more of a pleasant haunt, the feeling of being watched over, taken care of. A really lovely piece of music...

"Long Goodbye" features a number of nicely elongated pads paired with some struck metallic objects that naturally reverberate, a combination that results in some very tasty dramatic moments. I really enjoy the way this track illustrates the musicality inherent in the unexpected, and that sense of discovery that plays throughout really connects with me as a listener.

"Ancestral Voices" has a vaguely unsettling feel to it, a disorienting swirl of sounds and voices that rotate around the soundscape alternately building and falling in volume. That's not to say that it's not a good track though, I actually find it to be quite impressive in it's ability to inspire unease.

By contrast, "The Moth Jar" has a very delicate beauty to it, lovely piano matched with percussive metallic tones and treated electronics, all working together to create a very beautiful piece of music. Definitely my favorite track on the album.

"Transmigration" has a large cinematic quality to it, a big sound that suggests vast open spaces and long panoramic vistas. Certainly an excellent piece of work for use as a soundtrack or perhaps as the inspiration for a short film.

"Traces" closes the album, a quick don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it ambient piece that really embodies the ideal of active listening. There's a lot to discover in this two minute track, a wealth of ideas compressed into a very tiny space. If you choose to listen passively you're sure to notice some of it's charms, but if you actively involve yourself in the track I'm sure you'll be suitably rewarded for your efforts.

There's no question that Johnson and McWilliams compliment each other brilliantly on this album, and the end result is an impressive collaboration that's already circling around the top spot on my year end list of groovy music. Take some time to explore "Ecotone", you'll be glad you did.