Review Summary: A delicately formed debut and an inspiring effort from Wes Willenbring that adds something new to the ambient genre
Walking to the train station one chilly Saturday afternoon, the previous night's excess ensured that my head felt as if it had been trampled on by an elephant. Such was my hangover, music was the last thing that I needed. However, the walk to the station is quite boring, so I decided to load Wes Willenbring's "Somewhere Someone Else" onto my Ipod (using the shuffle function too) and within the first seconds of "Aperture", the pain in my head seemed to subside. It didn't matter that ferocious looking rain clouds were forming overhead, everything at that moment made perfect sense.
Wes Willenbring recently moved to San Francisco where he has created this gentle and multi-textured album of atmospheric piano and guitar based pieces. Percussive elements are completely eschewed in favour of soft piano tones, warm drones and beautiful guitar work. Bringing to mind artists such as The Dead Texan, Labradford and Eluvium, Willenbring has managed to add something new to this genre.
The music here slowly unfurls, while layers of differing melodies are carefully added. The shimmering beauty of "As You Fade Away" is a prime example of this, two or three drone-melodies float together while softly plucked guitar notes intertwine. It's an intriguing combination that seems to take its cues from the wall-of-sound approach of bands like My Bloody Valentine. "Small Reminders" helps to fill the gaping hole left by the absent Labradford. Dripping with melancholic guitar work, each note and tone is deliberately placed. You don't notice the lack of precussion, the hypnotic instrumentation ensures that.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what places one ambient album over the next, but with "Somewhere Someone Else" you can make no mistake. The vast, luxuriant soundscapes transport you to another world. "Reverie", for example, starts with reverbed guitar work that soon meshes with unearthly drones. Within seconds you become immersed in its thick, liquid sounds. It becomes apparent that the only way to experience this album properly, is through your headphones and at full volume.
It's actually difficult to pick a favourite track here, such is the quality of each composition. Every single track provides an alluring listen and Willenbring's meticulous attention to detail catapults this album ahead of its peers. At a push, I would pick penultimate track "Lost Illusions" as my favourite. It is four minutes of pure ambient joy. This cerebral effort features some of the nicest guitar plucking I have heard so far this year, it's brooding and nocturnal again recalling Labradford. It moves at almost glacial pace.
Hidden Shoal are fast carving out a niche for themselves in the ambient/electronica market. Following on from Slow Dancing Society's "The Sound of Lights When Dim", Willenbring's "Somewhere Someone Else" is a tremendous affair of restrained, multi-layered and hypnotic soundscapes.