Published on April 17th, 2017 | by The Beige Baron


Review | The Opposite of Aloof

Fledgling UK label ACR makes an extraordinary debut with The Opposite of Aloof, a 12-track collection of ambient experimental music sourced from the global underground.

Ambient is sometimes mischaracterized as sonic wallpaper, soporific sound that tranquilizes its audience, music designed to be ignored. Quality ambient, however, can direct attention down secret pathways of the subconscious, the formless world between wakefulness and sleep. It can change the weather of your mental atmosphere.

Label head Adam Donoval has done an amazing job of not only finding bands for the compilation, but also in the arrangement and pacing of the album

Good ambient music can do this without raising its voice above a whisper. It teases awareness, tugs at sepia threads of memory, and cuts the moorings of your mind to let it drift before drawing you out of cloudy emotion with a new loop or sonic fragment.

What’s remarkable about The Opposite of Aloof is how consistently these moments happen. Featuring emergent artists from UK, Japan, US, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Sweden, Mexico, and Spain, this collection is woven into a seamless tapestry of similar yet unique sounds.

Sounds waft in and out like a breeze stirring curtains on a summer afternoon, chattering birds and sigh of traffic providing a dreamlike context for the music itself, which runs from looping tapes, pulsing synths, and even the roar of a jet engine played back at different pitches. If all this sounds a little high-concept, rest assured that it’s easy to access and enjoyable to listen to.

“I’ve totally fallen in love with the format, the warmth, the slight distortion…”

Label head Adam Donoval has done an amazing job of not only finding bands for the compilation, but also in the arrangement and pacing of the album, so you can listen to it in a sitting without feeling like you want to skip tracks—a good thing since this is a cassette release.

To meet demand following a sold-out first issuing, Donoval is dubbing some more in a limited second run. “I’ve totally fallen in love with the format, the warmth, the slight distortion—I think it really works with the music we’re putting out.”

Adam Donoval

“The concept for the tape was very simple: outlining the vision of the ACR label,” he answers when BNU asks what the objective was. “I’m interested in anything from minimalist compositions and field recordings to noise and drone, and everything in between.

The Japanese artist km: reveals a fascination with microtonal drone pitches…

“Finding the artists was mostly just approaching friends, and friends of friends, a very organic effort. Some, like Knivtid or Nate Scheible, I found online and became a huge fan.

“The rest were definitely the results of a network. One person that I approached didn’t manage to get a track to me in time, but we now have issued an album by him called Evergreen Avenue. The tapes have sold out already, so it’s all good.”

Different listeners will find different moments on this record that resonate, although all contributions are strong enough to make me want to explore their discographies further.

Highlights for me included Knitvid’s filmic, nostalgic yearning expressed in a plucked bass motif through swooping bursts of static, and José Soberanes’ Too Late to Tell You, which unfolds in the secret nighttime chirps and rustles, in pattering rain, to hauntingly beautiful and overlapping synth tones.

Kobe-based artist km:

Other tracks are more melodic, like Melquíades Cascades/Filigree, which is built around a looping string figure underpinned by billows of sub-bass before erupting in euphoric choir of bubbling electronic sound.

The Japanese artist km: reveals a fascination with microtonal drone pitches, offering a single beautiful note that rolls and somersaults through harmonic overtones and spattered birdcalls. Balcony is warm and nourishing like sunlight and is one of the most peaceful moments on the album.

Ondrej Zajac provides a perfect counterpoint with buzzing stutters of dark noise over watery subterranean splashes and bloops, before the ecstatic drone of Strom Noir warms us up once more.

Perhaps my favorite track is the incredible Subliminal Storms by Izanasz – a piece assembles into an orchestration of aircraft sounds, jet whine layered in at different pitches to create textures and tones that feel entirely new. An inventive and moving piece filled with urgent sense of movement.

The album closes in a pastiche of industrial and robotic sounds, a vaguely menacing and gloomy hymn expertly woven together with cosmic detritus and looping disembodied voices. In a way, the darker colors rouse you from a vivid dream. As brooding synth decays to silence, hitting repeat on this album and taking the trip again seems an entirely good idea.

Strom Noir

The Opposite of Aloof is well named. Despite eschewing song structure, melody, and other trappings that make conventional songs seem familiar and welcoming, each of these songs resonate as personal moments. You can sense the state of mind the artist was in when they composed these pieces, inspiring a feeling of communion, and intermixed as they are with memories and daydreams of your own, the experience is intimate.

If wanting to hear more from these artists is any measure of this compilation’s success, then it succeeds mightily. Again, it’s a remarkable first issuing from ACR, and one that marks this label as worthy of following on social media to get first serve on their releases as their discography continues to grow.

The Opposite of Aloof is out now on cassette and digital download.

Top image courtesy Mt Accord.

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Groping for trouts in a peculiar river.

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