Review Summary: Mark Nelson writes pretty songs.
It would be easy to deride Pan American for writing the same album over and over. Of course, it wouldn't be entirely correct, but without listening closely it would appear that for Labradford guitarist Mark Nelson is treading water merely eleven years after Pan American's eponymous album. Nelson might be playing it safe, perhaps, but that isn't to say that he is stagnating. Pan American's 2006 effort, For Waiting, For Chasing
, was a great album; even with its daunting exterior, it possessed a certain charm and invitingness inspired by the birth of Nelson's son
Listening to White Bird Release
, it seems as though Nelson's source of inspiration was probably not quite as significant this time around. The album drones on just as any of the other works released under the Pan American moniker, but this time around the result is a more reserved, almost detached endeavour. Though White Bird Release
is decidedly ambient by nature, Nelson also introduces a post-rock flair to the electronic sounds that dominated the likes of Quiet City
and For Waiting, For Chasing
. "There Can Be No Thought of Finishing" places guitars at the forefront, with long passages of subtle tremolo picking opening the first four minutes of the song, before being smothered by layers of white-noise. Indeed, guitars play a much larger role than on previous Pan American albums, yet are not imposing oat the same time. "Both Literally and Figuratively" places emphasis on soothing keyboard melodies and soft tribal beats, but the resulting sound is just as earthen and minimalistic as the guitar led songs.
If White Bird Release
is anything, it's an album for a rainy day. The record reflects this exceptionally well, creating a collage of gorgeous organic sounds. "So That No Matter" and "There is Always the Thrill of Just Beginning" conforms to this standard perfectly, sporting warm synth melodies that evoke the serene, light-hearted atmosphere of a spring or summer afternoon. A great pity then, that White Bird Release
has been released in the dead cold of winter (just snowed again last weekend, ugh), yet in a way it makes the album's release all that much more endearing. The nine-minute long "In a Letter to H.G. Wells, 1932" jumps out of the rainy day motif, embracing sound just as peaceful, yet not quite as lush as the rest of the album. Shimmering guitars again play a large role through a major portion of the song closing the album off lust as it began, albeit in a more abrupt fashion.
Of problems, White Bird Release
has few, but they're there nonetheless. Somewhat troublingly, such drawbacks have not only carried over from For Waiting, For Chasing
, but almost mirror them completely. For all of its beauty, White Bird Release
can be frustrating to listen to at times. Nelson's minimalist song structures sometimes work against him; on occasion, White Bird Release
drones on and on, seemingly unsure of where it is going. Not unlike previous efforts, these monotonous passages seem emotionless, and are sometimes difficult to connect with. To call White Bird Release
boring wouldn't be accurate, as the majority of the album is simply too interesting to say otherwise. It can plod from time to time, though, and isn't the most accessible listen for those not fully accustomed to ambient music.
The track listing of White Bird Release
reads: "There can be no thought of finishing, for 'aiming at the stars' – both figuratively and literally – is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress one makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning – Robert Goddard in a letter to H.G. Wells, 1932."
For all the criticisms Nelson may endure for not branching out or over relying on minimalism, White Bird Release
does provide a certain thrill. Pan American's sixth album is never really mind blowing, but the lush sounds and subtle beats that Nelson so heavily utilises are so sonically pleasing that White Bird Release
's slight flaws are easily ignored. Whether or not Mark Nelson can keep it up is anyone's guess, but if the past couple releases are anything to go by, than it'll be interesting to see where Pan American goes next.