OK. Ambience. I understand that this genre, by definition, can be repetitive. Indeed, it should be. Those underlying patterns serve as the base – the very atmosphere itself, even – upon which other textures and moods can shift, warp, wax and wane at leisure. However, the key to a successful ambient album is to present new scenery with each track. Otherwise, the whole trip could end up as a washout.
Such is the dilemma with Ken Camden’s Space Mirror. Now, let’s be clear here – the fellow is one portion of the cerebral unit known as Implodes, and he put out a rather respectable album not too long ago himself, Lethargy & Repercussions. On that solo debut, Camden fashioned out a stiff, archaic electronic style, spaced out in long, long drones as various string instruments – from guitars to sitars – ebbed and flowed in undulating waves. This time around, he’s loosened up a bit, unwinding the choppy synth lines and introducing a marvelous, spaced-out guitar which soars across the black void of the universe. The tracks are somewhat more digestible here, too, with the longest at only seven or so minutes, and the shortest at around five or so. (To compare: the shortest track on Lethargy was about seven minutes, and the longest dragged out to eleven!)
But now, to the most important issue: how’s the atmosphere? We open on “Spectacle” – from a gently flowing synth line, the astronaut guitar ventures to the far corners of the galaxy. “Eta Carinae” brings us to an empty space station, still echoing with the clockwork hum of analogs, and still haunted by lingering spirits that manifest themselves in ghostly synths. As for “Moon”…well, whaddaya expect? Touching down on this barren satellite, though, one hears little more than the sitar drone of the heavens and the spinning, cosmic guitar flying overhead.
“Trapezoid” almost sounds familiar – we’ve taken this flight of strings before, haven’t we? – but this particular trip is even less structured than usual, floating freely without any pulse or rhythm. Furthermore, some distant, menacing sound rears its head at the onset, and lurches closer and closer to your tranquil flight pattern. What follows is both blissful and disarming at once. “Antares” sees us drifting further still into the depths of space, surrounded only by droning electronica and other minimal, cosmic synths. We return to stable land again, though, for “Dominic Sunset” – or, at least, the sort of stable land that Jean-Michel Jarre may have envisioned during Oxygene. As synths bubble and percolate, drones descend, and warp and weave across the vast, empty soundscape. At around 5 minutes in, though, we lift off from Earth again, and end the album in an ethereal void of buzzing sitar and sweeping guitars.
On the surface, Space Mirror appears to be serenely homogenous – and I have indeed been wooed to sleep by Camden’s celestial drones on more than one occasion. But patient, focused listeners will discover six unique landscapes to explore here, that unfold their secrets only after multiple expeditions. Those who crave melodies, hooks, lyrics, and all those other familiar accouterments of pop will be lost and overwhelmed in this aural odyssey – but, for those of us who can brave the journey, prepare for a sublime trip into the cosmos. Space Mirror is out on 29 July on Kranky Records.