Ambient music is, in some ways, a cipher. Divested of lyrics and often stripped bare of pesky concepts and superfluous instrumentation, ambient compositions force the listener to do all the hard work. The emotional responses and mental environments are all there to be drawn from the music in whatever way the listener sees fit. Like reading tarot cards, one always finds exactly what they’re looking for in the hand they’re dealt.
Repose, Anthène’s debut album on Toronto-based Polar Seas Recordings, is the best kind of musical blank slate. At times numbing and warming, Brad Deschamps’ guitar drones and synth swells wash over you in big, unrestrained waves, with little regard to painting concrete imagery or spoon-feeding the listener atmospherics. It’s a wild, wide-open album that in some ways holds more in common with post-rock or film scores than traditional ambient; it’s less an immersive experience than a series of vignettes.
It goes without saying that music doesn’t need to be overly complex to be engaging; it’s often the opposite that falls true. There’s a kind of unvarnished naturalism at work in Repose. The opening notes of “reaction” echo like a far-off call in a canyon; drone after drone drifts in and builds to a humming thunderhead that never quite breaks. In the way that some people grow to love the unbroken lines of the desert, the steppe, or the monotony of the moors, Repose draws the listener in with few embellishments and little restraint. The ebb and swell of processed guitar is soothing and sinister at turns, but even at its sparsest moments, the album never descends into true minimalism. Building, escalating, but rarely evolving, Repose is relatively uncomplicated, and that’s just fine. A screen is just as important as what’s projected against it.
It may seem like quite a task to pack such a large sound into a relatively short album, especially in a genre known for long-form pieces, but Repose handles the restriction of a C30 admirably. Still, at times, the album feels more like an excursion than a journey, and it will be interesting to see if the project expands beyond its current sonic strictures into something a bit longer or more varied in instrumentation. That’s coming from a place of personal curiosity, not dissatisfaction. Repose is a solid start to what we can hope is a much longer discography to come.
02) Repose I
03) Prophet I
04) Trial of the Century
05) Social Engineering
06) Mount Hopeless
07) Prophet II
08) Repose II