Music and politics — what could sit together more easily? From the rousing patriotic hymns of emerging 19th-century nations, through the provocative ballads of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, to Stormzy’s Grenfell-themed ad lib at the recent BRIT Awards ceremony, music has long been seen as a potent political force. From the titles and press blurb for Yann Novak’s “The Future is a Forward Escape into the Past”, it would seem that the Los Angeles-based artist is intent on making his own critical statement on “the rise of nostalgia-driven nationalism” he sees in his native United States — but can he make his ambient drone weapons pointy enough to do damage?
‘Radical Transparency’ kicks things off with a very gradual fade-in, a low rumble joined by vague, tonally-indistinct chords. Rough noise is unexpectedly juxtaposed with melodious birdsong, but is this the assertive, truthful voice of Mother Earth, or a false ‘harking back’ to a mythical primeval oneness with nature? The birdsong continues into the next track, where a solid rush of air comes and goes and organ-like chords crack round the edges. In ‘Casting Ourselves Back into the Past’ another rush of air sounds like a jet plane passing overhead, except it doesn’t pass — it hangs there in the sky, burning fuel yet motionless, as faint, indistinct tones glimmer with azure. Final piece ‘Nothing Ever Transcends its Immediate Environment’ is an urgent one, tugging on the sleeve with its buzzing tones and grave, wordless vocal intonations.
Novak certainly seems to be aiming for a political ambient music, but the music’s abstraction (or sometimes its concreteness, as with the birdsong) perhaps poses a challenge when it comes to making specific statements, leaving the titles to do much of the work. However, this indefiniteness may well be the most honest approach to take in an era where the line between truth and falsehood is constantly being blurred by all comers, and where the longer you look at a situation, the more complex and entangled it appears. “The Future is a Forward Escape” echoes the vague disquiet and unease that seem to be constantly murmuring in the background of our everyday hypermediated lives. In refusing to allow us to settle on false certainties, whether nostalgic or utopic in nature, perhaps political ambient can be a powerful affective force after all.[bandcamp width=100% height=120 album=1004226220 size=large bgcol=ffffff linkcol=0687f5 tracklist=false artwork=small track=1334642180]
Yann Novak will be on tour in Europe during March 2018:
09 @ Fylkingen, Stockholm, SE
11 @ Spektrum, Berlin, DE
14 @ AB Salon, Ancienne Belgique, Brussels, BE
15 @ De Ruimte, Amsterdam, NL
23 @ Iklectik, London, UK