Music without elaborate instrumentation, without a human voice, and, subsequently, without lyrics is often considered more open to interpretation than the usual three- or four-minute song on the radio. But is this necessarily true? Isn’t there as much to be affected by, and thus interpret, upon hearing any given song from, say, Rubber Soul? The distinction may lie in the notion that certain musics, particularly of the abstract, atmospheric, or ambient variety, by their very nature make themselves accessible to interpretation in a more immediate sense. A certain temporary blockage inherent and characteristic to considerably mixed instrumentation disappears when we hear, for example, the end of a song such as Slowdive’s “Catch the Breeze.”
Is this then at least the initial purpose and nature of what would be characterized as drone music? The Voice Rolling, a new collection of songs from drone-y ambient act Mind Over Mirrors — the solo project of Jaime Fennelly (Peeesseye, Phantom Limb + Bison) — would seem to embrace this proposition. Even before playing the album, the project’s name and album title hint at layers of meaning, already evoking multiple interpretations. The song titles add to this perception, and in the tradition of musical ancestor Nurse with Wound, they sound simple and playfully cryptic, seemingly absurd and, often enough, humorous.
“Brickfielder,” the opening track, does not start so much as come to life, when it is soon realized that one layer of sound is in fact two or more, casually intertwining, encountering, interacting, separating, and so on, bringing about the germination of new sounds, layers, and tonal shifts along the way. The layers themselves are mostly consistent, but also unsteady at times. It’s a compelling effect. Other tracks on the album, such as “Coaling” and “Point Hammond,” retain for the most part the ambient allure of “Brickfielder” while also exploring noise and industrial, compounding consistency and variation with a clearly deft hand.
But while it succeeds as a rather curious exercise in contemporary ambient drone music, with rich and compellingly consistent layers of sound that complement and play off each other, the album as a whole suffers from indecisiveness. It doesn’t necessarily fail, but it certainly loses its power to beckon when it delves — deeply enough — into what sounds like either helplessly desperate and contemporary industrial-lite or something derivative of so-called “world music.” Any intrigue produced by sonic interplay, reciprocity, and dalliance in the more ambient tracks is missed in others such as “You Ain’t Reeling” and “Barely Spun.”
Ultimately, Mind Over Mirrors exhibits a far more limited instrumental repertoire than the other projects in which Fennelly is involved. But it makes sense, after all, as the album is reputed to have been recorded for the most part with only a manipulated Indian harmonium. Yet this limiting exercise in no way has to detract from its power to engage and affect the listener. With The Voice Rolling, Fennelly clearly demonstrates how this aesthetic choice influences the extent to which instrumental minimalism and sonic abstraction can either lure us into our own minds or disappoint us when we find nothing of interest there.