Swimming Against The Moments


he laptop electronics club isn’t so overcrowded—yet—that room can’t be found for at least one more member. The considerable challenge facing new applicants, however, is in discovering terrain that hasn’t already been definitively excavated by masters like Fennesz and Tim Hecker. On the evidence of Swimming Against The Moments, Ateleia’s easily-digestible forty minute debut, Antiopic label co-founder James Elliott is certainly game to try. His music is supposedly “founded on conscious allusions” to pop, ambient, and electronica, but don’t expect to hear anything remotely resembling conventional pop; whatever vestigial pop dimension his music possesses is buried deeply under dense electronic strata, with melody only intermittently surfacing at the far reaches of one’s aural periphery. He draws upon the contributions of numerous guests—guitarists David Daniell and Sadek Bazaraa, for example—but such recognizable sounds are refracted typically into fluid, mercurial fields of metallic abstraction. What distinguishes the Ateleia sound isn’t so much the uniqueness of its sonic palette as it is Elliott’s talent for allusively suggesting form and structure; his inviting and richly detailed music remains unpredictable throughout, yet never sounds aimless.

The album’s general style and sound is established immediately in “On All Fours,” an episodic opener of prickly whirlpools, glassy shimmer, fluttering squeals, whirrs and bleeps that’s held together by a droning, static-laden core that reigns throughout. Stuttering, grinding machine rhythms dominate “Every Word Spoken Is a Word That Remains” with the piece detouring into bowed shudders and screechy guitar fuzz.

Sometimes the album enters quieter territory: the brief “Adaj” filters owl-like calls through buzzy shards of static, while tentacles of glistening static introduce warmer glimmers in “Production and Poverty” when it escalates in volume and density. Dynamic contrast arrives in the album’s noisier moments, including the scarred churnings and writhings of “F.T.P.” and glorious splashes of monumental guitar din in “Desero.”

As one might expect, the longest piece, the ten-minute “Tested By Habit, Strata and Brine,” allows for a more leisurely unfolding though one no less controlled or deliberate. The piece begins with a thrumming drone attacked by ripples that combatively escalate before surrendering. Scarred smears wash ashore amidst crackling embers, and, following a remarkable interlude where the subtle lappings stand alone, an organ drone moves to the forefront to waver over the rippling base until the piece ends with gently shuddering tendrils of static.

The album ultimately seems a more-than-credible addition to the genre yet it’s hardly genre-defining and, perhaps because of its more allusive character, lacks the gravitas one associates with Mirages and Venice (“Desero” an exception). While Swimming Against The Moments impresses, there’s also no escaping the hermeneutic inevitability of hearing other works echo when listening to another, and Ateleia’s album suffers slightly when heard alongside such masterworks. Elliott’s music is more than their match, however, in its enthralling peak, “To Sell the Ground From Unborn Feet Forever... ” where sparkling curlicues of organ shimmer build into an entrancing, caustic drone of buzzings and bell-like punctuations, with the hint of a mournful melody looming in the distance, faintly glimpsed through the static.

Reviewed by: Ron Schepper

Reviewed on: 2005-01-31

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