For some reason, I really struggled to get into Taylor Deupree’s previous album “Faint” when it was first released. Being a fan of earlier work by the New York state-based artist, and trusting in friends who waxed lyrical over it, I would keep putting the album on every couple of months or so, hoping that whatever qualities that were obvious to them would become so to me. Yet the music consistently left me unmoved. Then, late one night almost four years after the record’s release — I can recall I was really tired — things somehow quietly slipped into place. It was like I’d found a way in, a way to crack the code and transform it into language I more or less understood. Now, whenever I listen to “Faint”, it’s like sitting down with an old friend.
I had no such difficulties getting acquainted with “Somi”, Deupree’s latest solo release. The artist is also a talented photographer, and while “Faint” had a blurred softness and indistinctness to its sound, “Somi” gently turns the barrel of the lens to bring things into sharper focus. The seven pieces are formed around loose melodies or sequences of tones, usually electric piano or synth but sometimes guitar or glockenspiel, fragmented and scattered across the stereo field. Often, harmony is created through different interweaving melodic lines rather than the block chords of traditional ambient music; on other occasions, chords form a glimmering background or create surging waves. All of the tracks feature some kind of quiet hiss, probably mostly from Deupree’s tape gear but perhaps also from field recordings — the one in ‘Autum’ (I think that’s not a typo) sounds like running water or rain.
The range of sound sources and techniques used for “Somi” is quite limited, which both lends the album a sense of coherence and emphasises the subtleties and nuances of each piece. The sparse, unhurried guitar line of the title track is given movement by the electric piano and synth notes flickering and glimmering all around it. On ‘Slown’, it’s a quiet spinning sound, like a wind-up motor being cranked, that brings a sense of momentum; on ‘Fenne’, it’s a background rattling and shuffling, and then a gleaming chord that quietly builds in energy until it starts to babble like a brook. Despite these gentle flurries of activity, the overall atmosphere of the album is one of stillness and hush.
It’s the definiteness of the electric piano and guitar tones that gives “Somi” a certain precision, the frozen stillness of a sharply-focused photograph; on the other hand, the background sounds, tape effects, and unpredictable distribution of sounds in time and space create an impression of softness and warmth. We can come to appreciate vagueness and indistinctness as pleasing aesthetic effects, and also perhaps as an instantiation of the contingency and uncertainty of life in general — yet at the same time we want to see, and hear, with clarity. “Somi” expresses and mingles these two desires in quietly subtle and moving ways.