In Darren Harper’s delicate and optimistic ‘Paths’, textured electronics lie in and amongst the music’s chiming foliage. Spring-sweet sounds are here, a thawing is taking place, and this melting heralds the arrival of enveloping and overlapping chimes, leaping over one another and bumping into each other. In the recording, branches crackle and crystals of ice splinter; when new shoots appear, streams are no longer frozen. Water can flow. Paths is paper-thin music, and because of that, its water does indeed flow. Electronics fit in instantly, and they’re unobtrusive enough to blend in without the need for a second glance.
Created with a modular synthesizer and effects pedals, Paths is an au naturel record that encompasses and symbolizes nature. It always finds a way to renew; there’s always a route to take. Here, mistakes are cherished and accepted as part of the growing process, an essential part of its development. Stones and sediment can block the flow, and the same is true of adversity, which can either crush or empower. It gives us all a chance to find another solution. When those notes come, they come in a rush, and they’re able to make a path when all roads appeared to be dead ends. This river is a smooth one, cutting with ease through an area of bright, twinkling sound.
Described as an album of ‘missteps and error, a process of understanding and unfolding’, the music nevertheless finds its way.
Progress can only be made through mistakes. Perhaps it had to go through this – to go down this path – in order to learn, grow, and find its true self.
As a leaf unfolds when drenched in droplets of rain and exposed to slivers of sunshine, so too does the music unfold; from a closed and cupped palm to an open one. A branch, sitting at the entrance to the forest, bends back to welcome its new visitors with evolving melodies and a hint of sci-fi synth from 1986, around the time of Flight of the Navigator. Containing a pacifying, benevolent synth, there’s a feeling of unabashed freedom within. You can picture yourself flying over Florida and the Everglades in a sleek UFO, up and down the coast, but instead of listening to The Beach Boys and their classic I Get Around , the starship plays ambient music.
Variety is another important element in Paths , but whatever its sound and wherever it roams, the relaxed feel of an overarching lullaby stays the same. An inflatable, almost-weightless tone permeates the record, giving it a bountiful life and pumping it with the oxygen of optimism. These leaves don’t fall. And despite the rising note-tally, Harper moulds an album that’s both busy and expansive. Every track is different, containing a different elemental property, and yet they’re all connected to its periodic table. Some hide among trees, half-tones peeking out from behind a trunk; others glisten as if on a silver lake.
Deeper tones rest like slumbering creatures on the ocean floor, while its lower drones are seismic, gliding like an orca through the deep. The ocean’s shimmers and glints are caught as light pierces through water.
As above, so below.
Somehow, Harper’s album is at one with nature. Ultimately, though, it’s an album with a heart set on the emergence of Spring. On closer ‘Shadow of Spring’, the birds greet the new season, the late thawing of a cold March seeping into the warmer drifts of early April air and bunnies and chocolate and Easter, chirping in tune with the chimes, recording nature’s song. Just like Spring, Harper’s paths lead to new life.