Branches is a record that sways as it plays, and as it advances the music is slightly buffeted by elements beyond the melody’s control. The repeating guitar-shaped melodies have strong roots, and that helps the music stand up tall. High above the rest of the treeline, the strings of the bright, sunny guitar soak in the sunshine, but at this height they’re also susceptible to the other elements, and the guitar occasionally clouds over with a dappling of electronic stutters and rainy glitches which then evolve and progress over a period of time.
Orla Wren and Cyril Secq’s Branches is distinct and organic music that grows underneath a mountain of fresh soil. Past its leaves, a great tree stands in the centre; the pulsing beat of Branches. Every single branch is joined to the body of the tree, linked in some way or another to a different part of the body. And the music walks slowly along the veined course of its gnarled body, the warm melodies and the fragile strings resting in the crook of its arms, a treehouse that acts as a kind of safe house, somewhere secluded away from the troubles of the world.
Static eats away at the leaves of the music, as does a light, insistent dissonance. As a result, the melody becomes obscured, not so much fighting for its place but instead accommodating and seemingly welcoming this new visitor. In an age where disease can and does afflict millions of trees (it’s recently been reported that the ash tree is facing extinction in Europe), it’s hard to tell whether this gentle intrusion is an invasive presence or a returning, long-time friend. In a very distinct way, the reassuring, tonally sure melody contrasts with the field recordings, sharp edits and splintering abrasions. It is a balancing act (as is the case with almost any collaboration), and the record stands on a sturdy, upright spine. At times, the microsounds vie for dominance, but they also know when to let the melody of the guitar roam. And that is all Orla Wren’s doing – his use of space and his sensitivity of what the moment needs, emotionally and, taking a step back, as a piece of sculpted art in itself, is always suitable and respectable to the mood of the music.
When new roots don’t take to the soil, ambient can quickly turn into staid and unadventurous music notable only for its lack of soul, drying up like a stagnant pond. You can hear it when you listen to some rock or pop music, you can hear it in a hastily written song that uses a lot of familiar chords, and you can definitely hear the malaise in ambient, too. Branches is important because it embraces the unusual, standing on its own in its forest of enchantment, finding solace (and musical purity) in the path less travelled, and that’s the only way to progress in a genre where many people look the same.