Playing to the conventions of style, Örnólfur Thorlacius’s brand of dreamy, rumbly dub-techno plays upon repetition and loops ad infinitum of rich and detailed ambient and noisy passages. What is it with Icelandic musicians possessing such skill in crafting beautiful ambient music? Distant Present is no outlier to this track record.
When endless cycles of synths, percussion, and carefully crafted noise align most pleasingly, Thorlacius’s skill as an arranger comes to the fore — stacked harmonies and colors emerge tenderly and slowly, unfolding into near free-time rushes of hiss and reverberating roars. The grooves are tight and focused in their components’ realization, with hints and small tangents favored over larger, blunt gestures, but it doesn’t prevent the music from reaching enormous scales when they’re earned over extended periods.
Although straightforward and unsurprising, “Dis-en-gaged” and “Gin and (Bi/T)onic” are deftly executed examples of the artist’s abilities to suspend quite simple ideas in very appealing and rewarding structures. “Verksmidja” and “Scaphoid” offer more bizarre but no less lush, worthwhile ambient directions to the overall nature of Distant Present, broadening the album’s scope and Thorlacius’s apparent vision.
TMT favorite Laurel Halo and new-age newcomer COLLEGE DROP both contribute notable remixes of “Black To The Future” that couldn’t be more different within the sphere of an Ozy construction, with the former offering something akin to her Chance of Rain album’s murky, fascinating meanderings and the latter floating bells and synth noodles above a slo-mo techno thumper. The Miles’ Method rework of “Drama Club” is perhaps the most unusual of the additions to this release, sequenced oddly a few tracks in — but as opposed to cutting off the tangent of Distant Present, it adds a suitable break from the eventual singularity of the entire album.
And that singularity, or maybe better put, a single approach, is the one thing that holds back Distant Present. On tracks that don’t align in the same organic, satisfying manner, Thorlacius’s detailed sound design and sense of development and change tend to suffer. For an album primarily concerned with texture and its evolution, tracks like “Arcane” and “Chrome-Drip” offer little in terms of the considered approach that their companions provide. But Ozy’s return after an extended period of silence reveals that he hasn’t lost that sensibility that marks out his intriguing work.