Ambient drone is a surprisingly difficult genre to get right. Often it feels like artists are content simply to feed everything through a reverb guitar pedal in an over-saturated and pretty much bish-bash-bosh style, while others aurally skewer you through unrelenting and painful dissonance. Get it wrong and a genre that usually provides you with welcoming disconnect with the world, as it paints landscapes in front of your eyes and injects emotions directly into your heart, becomes at best an exercise in tedium or, at worst, plain uncomfortable and a reaction test for the stop button.
As for an example of being pitch perfect, Emra Grid’s second album for Opal Tapes absolutely nails the balance. As you listen, you’ll find yourself unconsciously focused on the album art, which depicts a grotesque face – not a million miles away from Death Note’s Ryuk – looming over a large wooden lodge. Your expectations are set – this is less about visiting a twee lake house in the American evergreens, and more akin to the twisted flip-side reality as depicted in Stranger Things.
"Shay's Vacation House isn't always a pleasant stay, yet there is something compelling about it."
There is beauty and serenity in the desolation – opener ‘Land Is‘ feels like a pale acrid sunrise, where strands of frozen mist is illuminated by the near white of a winter sun. A dawn chorus is provided by ‘Signal‘, whose string swells and choral exhales are almost reminiscent of the opening strains of a golden era Hollywood musical, the fleeting euphoria quickly drawn into your chest as the light they provide fades to grey. Two-parter ‘Trace It Back‘ disorientates in its first guise through its use of Doppler effect, with the subsequent piecebringing your inner ear back into balance with melodies that sound like they are being played in some far off room.
The disconcerting mood comes from the titular vacation house itself – ‘Departure‘ is the dead of night sound of a gasoline fuelled generator, the hum of electricity and rhythmic churn providing a focal point as your desperately try to block out sounds from the gloom. While ‘Replaced‘ is utterly tangible in its disrepair – full of splintering wood ready to prick flesh and rusty nails to snag clothes as you pass by. It cleverly plays on your emotions through the use of space as sounds disappear, like the ripples of a stone thrown into a gloomy and opaqely black pool of water that does not betray its secrets and depth. Similarly, penultimate track ‘Distant Sound And The Dream‘ feels akin to throwing an array of objects down a well, listening to the immediate clatter and subsequent after effects as they plummet out of earshot.
Shay’s Vacation House isn’t always a pleasant stay, yet there is something compelling about it, like tonguing an ulcer to feel the rush of pain and withdrawing only to feel the throb beckoning you back for another prod. As it all comes together on ‘Fifteen Day Trilogy’, with the chain-sawing guitar hacking its way through the otherwise placid ambient backdrop, your mind will already be thinking forwards to a repeat booking.
Shay’s Vacation House is scheduled for release 30th October 2017, order a copy from Bandcamp.
1. Land Is
5. Trace It Back
6. Trace It Back (II)
7. Distant Sound and the Dream
8. Fifteen Day Trilogy