American label Florabelle will release a couple of ambient gems at the end of March. Both fit in with the promise of spring and its lighter, brighter season. The label was conceived in 2014 and calls New York its home, but these two releases, while remaining in the US, head south and west. The first, Coquina Dose, by Josh Mason, features a tight ecosystem of warm tones and microscopic particles. Influenced by the barometric pressure of a humid summer day, its pond-like ripples are pockmarked by dusty crackles and light, organic tones which hover around like dragonflies at noon. Inspired by Josh’s lifelong home of Florida, the humid climate of the Sunshine State pours into the record like a dollop of sunscreen. And there isn’t an alligator in sight!
Mason explores Florida and what it means to live there, challenging perceptions of endless sunshine, bars, beaches, and Mickey Mouse ears – the Humidity Kingdom and not the Magic Kingdom – and echoing novelist Lauren Groff’s collection of short stories, ‘Florida’, with its humid atmosphere. A state where ‘everybody is sleeping save for the tree frogs and the sinners’.
Panthers, bears, snakes, mosquitos, gators; it’s a deadly place. The land is capable of a deluge of rain, curtailing baseball games and adding to the state’s exotic vibe. But a still clarity exists inside the music, along with an absence of people, like an empty stretch of highway or a shopping mall before opening hours. The microscopic tones seem to thrive in the heat, which is the opposite of a UK tourist in the Everglades, where skin burns and peels instantaneously, a vampire exposed to midday sun. Mason uses guitar and tape – where sensitive melodies are sketched in a lo-fi environment, sleepily sitting on a porch in the late afternoon – and creates a pleasant warmth, and its sunshine is more than welcome. Within these tiny tones and a drenched atmosphere, Mason explores and engages with ideas of synthesis and the bio-feedback of plants, creating organic and naturally-flowing music.
The second release, Plains, by John Atkinson and Talya Cooper, was inspired by ‘the open skies of the West’, its arid nature is a sharp contrast to the Floridian swamps, the orange groves, and the gushing waters of its East Coast sister, but the music is no less ambient, and they share common ground in the rising of its temperatures. Plains takes elements from the original score of ‘Two Plains & A Fancy’, the third film from Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn, which was described by The New Yorker as ‘the most imaginative and visionary’ Western film of recent years. Cooper’s guitar lightly punctures the soundscape while Atkinson takes on processing duties, allowing the music to shift and sway in the lightest of April winds. It blooms without any sharp edges, and all of the composition’s elements are brought into one.
It isn’t constricted music, despite the glaring heat or the threat of dehydration or the boa-constrictor of an imminent headache gripping the skull and squeezing against bone. No, this is wide-open music, just as the desert is and always will be, as sparse as an old and vacant town, whose inhabitants all left for better things a long time ago, and downtown consists of a bar and a motel. Sometimes, it’s worth taking a step back, distancing oneself from the chaos of the world and choosing meditation over mania, and the music offers this as a safe space, a place for outstretched arms in an area free of the gravity of others. Like the West, it lives as an outsider, on the edge of things, but it’s a serene oasis, and that’s about as close to a definition of ambient as one can get. As it distances itself, it has the strange paradox of zooming in, of forming a deep concentration. It’s a record of exploratory beauty.
Both releases focus on the atmosphere of place via a subtle tweaking of tones and a light ambient coasting. ‘Cloudless’ introduces faint guitar arpeggios and splayed chords specked with ‘verb. The light doesn’t just shine through – it arrives in a flood of warmth, not just dappling but eclipsing the valleys and dust-bowls, the clifftops and mountains. The music is in love with its Western environment, almost dedicating its sound to its natural, awestruck geography. Shaped over a million years and more, the music can only succumb to its widespread lands, the blazing azure of its skies, and the endless, flat horizon. Even as the drones fade away, they leave behind a dying warmth which continues to affect the record, lingering on the face like the sun’s afterglow. These two releases allow for a time-out and a virtual vacation. Be sure to check out more of Florabelle’s quietly moving discography.