This upcoming trinity from Home Normal couldn’t come at a better time. The label is a beating heart for ambient music, sending their chosen children, who speak innocently in languages of loyalty and kindness, into the wooded arteries of the darkened wild. They are cloaked in red hoods, and they aren’t aware of the wolves that lurk behind the trees. At a time when rock-solid things are failing, with democracies disintegrating and freedoms put on indefinite hold, the music they put out is not only compassionate and caring but relevant and essential. Ambient music doesn’t really fight the power, but it fights in other ways: by filling hearts with love and compassion. What was once an untouchable white has been stained by the polluted grime of disunity, and the world engorges itself on greed and power. This humble little label does the opposite: it embraces love, people, and unity, and the protest shouts through the music they release. Late January and early February will see the first and last solo release from co-founder Ian Hawgood, as well as two releases from Sweden’s Tobias Hellkvist.
After moving away from Japan, Ian Hawgood battled with a prolonged and recurring bout of depression and Love Retained is a response to that. Depression is a cruel cage, but music is a gateway to liberty; maybe even the greatest statue of liberty. The music is liberated, free from editing or any kind of mastering, in a primal, naked and natural state. Sometimes, the notes are like eyes that feel heavy and red-eyed, not only sleepy or tired but incredibly fatigued, as if wiped out by a nasty virus, and they drag along as part of an introverted loop. Contemplative in its mood, the music can be itself, and that’s important; it can be who it is, what burns deep inside.
There isn’t any shelter from the rainy, nascent melancholia, but neither is it the sound of utter misery. The sadness is a part of the recording, an inextricable part of its soul, and it’s achingly beautiful. Remove it at your peril, because the emotional signature would be a paling imitation of its former self. It doesn’t look like a bruise from this angle, and even if it did, that would be just fine; that would be okay. And then they fade away, dwelling in periods of silence that are longer than normal. The silence has weight, yin to the music’s yang, a crucial part of the music and the emotion within. Silence says a lot, sometimes expressing things louder than a note played through a stack of Marshall amplifiers, and the silence is arresting.
Imperfections are made perfect through their very real and heartfelt thoughts and intentions. In turn, a kind of poetic deliverance gushes from the music. As Ian says, ‘the incompletion is a beautiful and freeing thing’. This is a release in more ways than one, and all profits will be donated to the mental health charity, Mind.
The re-release of Tobias Hellkvist’s Kaskelot is also on the agenda for early 2017. Originally recorded in Reykjavik in February 2011 and subsequently released on Home Normal’s sub-label Tokyo Droning, the reissuing also includes some heavyweight remixes from the likes of Segue, Chihei Hatakeyama, Porya Hatami, offthesky and Simon Bainton, to name only a few.
Light percussive touches and chiming, clear-cut melodies sculpt out a sunny atmosphere. Winter sunshine is draped over it, shining like fresh snowfall on a lonely isle; a place of safety and a place for slow walking. Be it in the morning light or in the settled dusk, the music is the same throughout the day – gentle in its rural, picturesque tones, its nestled villages and its fertile fields tucked away behind the gnarled, grey walls of dull stone. The piano is the source of this shining light, a constant throughout the continuous piece.
The remixes add splashes of vivid colour, not only joining onto the album but becoming an intrinsic part of it. Seven remixes were chosen, providing a sharp contrast to the main album and its four interlinking pieces. So the remixes aren’t just an afterthought or a bonus – they’re just as important, if not more so, than the original music. Segue’s bubbly beats and Pacific-washed atmosphere lead into a drifting ambient piece from Steve Pacheco where light drones sail by like white clouds that are puffy with sleep, wonderfully lost in the middle of its daydream. Porya Hatami’s remix is reminiscent of Eno, the dripping notes bringing back memories of Music For Airports and creating uninterrupted tonal puddles.
Finally, Hellkvist returns with Vesterhavet, which was released in 2016 on his Bandcamp page. The swelling soundscapes unfurl before the eyes, and as they reach a crescendo their white-bright majesty is revealed. Glimmering notes dive and lilt in pitch, sounding like a pod of lost whales. Strings rise up in an arctic blast, creating moments of extreme beauty. Ice sheets thrum and then shatter, rumbling like a deep, droning bass. A soundscape of crushing delight and awe-inspiring altitudes, Vesterhavet runs like a single piece, seguing naturally in its transition from one piece to the next: all is one. The seismic music never has to press or push the listener. Everything is working out the way it should do. The music reaches a high point with a mountainous drone. As it progresses, the drone becomes like warm sunlight on the tip of a glacier, capable of melting hearts. A swoosh of gentle air ruffles stray strands of hair. From here, the listener looks down on the valleys below and up at another glowing peak, its side lit up by the radiance of the sun in an intense beam that melts away the brittle diamonds of sheltering ice. This is the tip of the precipice, but it overlooks peace, and in so doing it opposes the new age.