mbient music. Out of all genres of music, it’s perhaps the hardest to judge objectively. When working with such a self-consciously limited palette of instruments and notes, artists place themselves in a compromised position. Obviously they could do more, but at the same time have they done too much? There is a strong lineage for ambient music, most of it emanating in tone or spirit directly from Brian Eno’s solo work but, honestly, little of it matters. Ambience is something that should rarely even be discussed- after all, it’s half background music, anyway.
It’s the other half that we’re here for- and that’s where the critical engagement can begin. “In 1983 He Loved to Fly” begins promisingly after a short whistled introduction with a hazy guitar line beginning the slow build-up of elements- and with a few minutes under its belt a voice comes in extolling the virtues of flying and the only conceivable problem associated with it. After the unnamed narrator’s pronouncement, the music builds in intensity. The hazy guitar line remains, a backbone for the swirling elements around it, providing support to the bell, other guitar lines, muted trumpet and keyboard that work above and below. And with all of these elements it emerges out of the ambient tag and closer to the sort of post-rock that groups like Pan American and Labradford have pursued in recent years.
“Life Indoors” echoes this connection in its slow, yet insistent beat from which the main guitar line emanates from. Enveloping the track this time are an almost Freescha-esque keyboard swirl and waves upon waves of keyboard swells. A simple mix, but one that works to great effect in its five minute duration.
The final highlight of the album comes in the glacial closer, “The Manual.” It begins simply with an encroaching Stars of the Lid-like drone, but is soon moved forward by an effervescent guitar. Halfway in, the song undergoes an almost shocking transformation, picking up one of the slighter elements of the song up that point for a much closer examination. It has the same effect as a child picking up one of the toys that has long gone neglected and having it become the treasured item for the time it takes to wear it completely out. And soon enough we’re back to the slow moving drone that has defined Stars of the Lid’s output, which closes the record nearly as quietly as it began.
Which leads us back to the original quandrary. Ambient music. It either gets into you or it doesn’t. Little historical justification or placing in context can really do justice to something that treads the line between aural wallpaper and engaging successfully. And One Mile North, to a large extent and in most cases does work the dichotomy nearly perfectly, while in certain situations the group grows out of the ambient tag into something that can barely be ignored (disturbing vocal samples, a large amount of elements that build towards things almost resembling climaxes). But pushing boundaries is exactly what great music should be about. In the future, One Mile North has a great album in them. This is a strong step in the right direction.