(Adhesive Sounds, 2014)
Evan A. James is nothing if not careful. The Edmonton native isn’t messing around with his compositions. And why would he? When you’re experimenting with ambient music – with dashes of chamber, jazz, and electronic – every minor tone, every snippet of found sound has its rightful place, and must be produced just so. Turns out James’s self-titled cassette for Adhesive Sounds follows that logic – these pieces are so meticulously arranged that one wouldn’t be out of place assuming that James possesses an almost OCD-like attention to detail.
But that’s kind of mean, and if that were true, then the ten tracks that make up Evan A. James wouldn’t be able to breathe nearly as well as they do in the face of stifling and debilitating routine. On the contrary, the detail is lovingly rendered, and the stylistic jumps give it a freshness that might seem unusual when you consider the music’s Lynchian (as in David) qualities: its deliberate pacing, dark moods, and surprising turns. To wit, what draws me to James’s music is his interest in jazz and how instruments, motifs, and rhythms appear throughout the release, yet remain firmly pieces of an experimental and/or ambient whole. Often it feels like James is fronting a minimal jazz ensemble performing on a dimly lit stage in a dimly lit bar on a dim and rainy night.
I’m reminded a bit of Leyland Kirby’s The Caretaker persona on opener “Sunrise,” mainly due to what sounds like the hiss of a record needle and a music box tune, smartly teleported directly from a deep past only hinted at by indirect mass media nostalgia. Here, too, is the introduction of jazz instrumentation with loops of trumpet, brushed drums, and piano. So James and Kirby both possess a sense of exploration through preservation, and the images conjured – black and white, unclear, smoky, even ghostly – only deepen the mysteries of situations suggested. “Sunrise,” here, is gray, and barely recognizable after drinking yourself sober all night. You’re alone with your thoughts, pretty much, at this point.
That continues with the obviously tilted “Interior,” a stroll down a darkened corridor punctuated by periodic piano chords, kind of like those found in the cut scenes in the original Silent Hill games. “Walking” occupies the same space, and there’s a recurrence of a type of record-needle ambient noise that whispers at the edges of the track. And then the gorgeous and slightly forbidding “Gallery Waltz” and the intense and slightly forbidding “Performance” end side A, and I’m pretty much cowering in the corner hiding from Silent Hill baddies. Stop making me think of Silent Hill Evan!
OK, though, it’s been tense, but a good tense, and as good as side A is, I’m particular to side B here. We’re back to the “Lynchian” descriptor for “Red Satin Curtains” (damn me for repeating an adjective from three paragraphs ago!), as swirling chordage looms over a sparse beat. But it’s the lonely trumpet appearing out of nowhere that gets me, firmly, and especially considering the track’s title I’m hard pressed not to shake the idea of the Black Lodge from Twin Peaks. You know, that place where odd and often disturbing images and activities are frequently set against incongruous music. Don’t pretend you have no clue. I can read your expressions. Then, it segues perfectly into “Dragging Along a Beach,” and let me just say that I’d never expect anyone to capture with music what it would be like to drag a body along a beach, looking for a place to stash it. See, Laura Palmer’s all over this side of the tape!
Evan A. James’s repurposing of jazz elements within ambient soundscapes comes off about as well as you could hope, grounding the listener in places ambient music wouldn’t necessarily evoke. And even by the end of side B we’re just talking about straight excellent jazz samples – “Quit” exhibits a similar NOLA jazz dirge as Radiohead’s “Life in a Glasshouse,” and “Elastic Self” splatters amazing percussion around a minimal piano motif. James strains against the confines of the ambient genre like the Incredible Hulk in a small box, and his muscle-y vision is strong enough to blast holes in it, Ferrigno style. And the result is this tape. (What the hell did I just type?…)
RIYL: The Caretaker, Karl Fousek, Angelo Badalamenti