Scott Solter One River

[Tell-All; 2006]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: ambient soundscapes, improvisational sound art, instrumental space rock
Others: Thomas Köner, Stars of the Lid, Keith Fullerton Whitman

Producer/engineer Scott Solter's One River is a slim, seven-track labor of love committed to tape in Solter's own personal recording studio and issued on the small San Francisco-based independent label, Tell-All Records. Cavernous and oddly soothing indie drone in roughly the same vein as the Austin, Texas outfit Stars of the Lid, Solter's own peculiar brand of ambient music has a warm, earthy shimmer that tends to envelop the listener like a cocoon of warm honey. In an era in which experimental music is often defined (and even, on occasion, lauded) by how far the artist in question is willing to go to extremes, Scott Solter is to be commended for his even-keeled consistency. Homogeneous, but by no means boringly so, One River keeps things both brief (the record clocks in at around 35 minutes) and tightly focused. The mood and tone of the record are set with the album's opening track, "Tarn," and both remain fairly static throughout its duration. It is to Solter's credit that he sticks with the working formula he created without allowing himself to skid off course and into that nebulous territory of "experimentalism," a region which is all too often characterized by needless abstraction and wanton excess.

"The Desert Trains" and "The Great Cold," the record's second and third tracks, respectively, form a kind of intriguing suite that acts as the hub around which the bulk of One River revolves. "Desert Trains" is a beautiful, almost uplifting track that moves at a languid, Sunday morning pace and, like most of the album, features treated guitar, processed drones, and tape manipulation. The piece evokes images of vast blue skies, rolling hills, and horizons that stretch to the end of the world. The track leads directly into the ominous and near-claustrophobic "The Great Cold," during which the record's mood takes a distinctly darker turn. Not unlike many of the tracks on Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works Volume Two, there exists something vaguely sinister, bordering on the disturbing, beneath the pleasantly ambient veneer of "The Great Cold." The two aforementioned tracks reminded this reviewer, on a number of different levels, of the opening sequence to David Lynch's Blue Velvet. The film begins in an idyllic suburban setting. The sun is shining, birds chirp, and white picket fences abound. Moments later, the film's tone shifts dramatically, revealing the underlying grotesquerie that, though it is usually unseen by the casual observer, surrounds us all. Solter's brooding tape treatments recall Angelo Badalamenti's atmospheric soundscapes, as do the eerie bowed strings (if they are, in fact, strings) that become prominent toward the close of the suite. Badalamenti's Twin Peaks scores, seem to be a possible point of reference on these pieces, particularly with regard to the film rather than the television series.

By and large, One River is a benignly moody record that comforts the mind and spirit, even while it ephemerally fades into the background. Meticulously recorded and stylishly packaged, the record is one of those rare anomalies that sounds, upon one's initial cursory examination of the cover art, very much like one might expect it to sound. The warm, smoky hues of the album's decontextualized photography presage the aural bliss to be discovered therein. On One River, Solter has effectively created a lean, yet fully developed series of pieces that could alternately serve as the soundtrack to the happier moments of your life, or simply work as background music for those precious early morning hours where that first hot cup of coffee affords you that visceral pleasure that cannot be conveyed by simple words and thoughts.

1. Tarn
2. Desert Trains
3. The Great Cold
4. Antique Brothers
5. Wave and Sepia Wire
6. Cypress Road
7. The Palace Wedding

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