Review Summary: Grab your space helmet, but no need to pack any uppers - Benn Jordan keeps ambient interesting.
Being late to the Benn Jordan game, I have the advantage of approaching Pale Blue Dot
as somewhat of a tabula rasa. Indeed, I only got my hands on some of his work as The Flashbulb – namely, Flexing Habitual and Soundtrack To A Vacant Life – at the exact same time as I did this album. The happy consequence of this is that I am stripped of any romantic bias towards a particular stylistic era of Jordan's. On the other hand, though, I'm also all the poorer for not being privy to Jordan's complete musical narrative – something which is often essential for judging progress and evolution. Hence, I'm going to examine Jordan's maiden pure ambient outing in isolation from his greater body of work and compare it, instead, against other albums of a similar ilk. While this runs the inevitable risk of pissing off the fanboy hordes (who, I'm sure, have snotty responses loaded and ready), such risk is not sufficient to stop me sharing my thoughts on what, at the end of the day, is one of the best ambient albums I've ever come across.
Apparently, Pale Blue Dot
is a tribute to Carl Sagan, everybody's favourite astronomer-cum-sceptic. What we have here then – if the track names and cover art didn't tip you off already – is yet another space-themed ambient album. Zeit, Apollo, Planetary Unfolding, The Magnificent Void; there's something about space and ambient music together which just seems right. That being said, as beautiful and relaxing as ambient soundscapes unvaryingly are, and as compelling and provocative the unsolved mysteries of space are, halfway through even the best ambient albums (space-themed or otherwise), one generally has to force themself to carry on paying attention to the general loveliness of it all. While, as the name suggests, that's pretty much the point of ambient music, Benn Jordan nonetheless manages to defy the laws of ambient somniferousness on Pale Blue Dot
, producing an album with that little something special to separate it from the competition.
What Pale Blue Dot
presents then, is something rather unique in the ambient world – an album that caters to short attention spans. How does Jordan manage this? Well, firstly, the longest track on the album runs for just over four and a half minutes. That's like a grindcore track by genre standards. Secondly, and far more profoundly, Jordan manages to produce subtle melodies and synth textures which are intriguing enough to keep the listener interested for the entire album's duration. This is made all the more remarkable by the fact that he does so without breaking any traditional genre conventions. There's minimal percussion, it stays all dreamy pads and ephemeral space tinklings, the album pulses and swells; Jordan uses exactly the same toolbox as all that have come before him to produce a piece with a distinctive identity and charm. So strong in fact are Jordan's songwriting skills, that you can even point to individual tracks such as "Leaving Earth" and "A Distant Earthrise" which can be enjoyed removed from the broader context of the album – a rarity in the ambient world.
While I could go on heaping praise on Mr. Jordan for Pale Blue Dot
, its important to qualify all this shameless sycophancy. All these claims of album character and attention-grabbing are very much made within the broader context of ambient music. If you think ambient music is boring in the first place, Pale Blue Dot
certainly isn't going to change your mind. You'll probably still be put to sleep, you'll just dream of more awesome space adventures (or whatever it is that yanks your crank). For fans, however, Jordan really has created something to demand your attention and maximise your enjoyment. He's taken his considerable – if somewhat attention-deficit – songwriting talent and focused it in on a new frontier to create something which is simultaneously refreshingly novel and yet comfortably familiar. Space has its best soundtrack yet.