Review Summary: The rhythm is going to get you.
Vertical Ascent is the debut album from ambient electronic super group Moritz Von Oswald Trio. The album is a suite of 4 movements, simply titled Patterns 1-4. The group plays an improvisational style of ambient techno that is very percussion driven, with accents of various sorts weaving in and out like characters in a play. The most noticeable part of the music is the inescapable rhythm, even when notes or melodies are disparate (or perhaps non-existent). Percussionist Sasu Ripatti drives each of the 4 tracks, generally at two different paces. The first and third movements are light, airy, and even toe-tap inspiring at times. The second and fourth movements are moodier and at times eerily sparse. What this deliberate contrast amounts to is giving the record the feel of a modern day electronic sonata.
The first 3-5 minutes of the record is probably the most accessible, and the closest to danceable this kind of ambience gets. Although the percussion does not become forceful, its traditional build-up entices the listener to dive into the more abstract sounds. The four tracks are sequenced seamlessly, where the movement from up-beat to dragging feet is almost natural. The key is the rhythm. Vertical Ascent is a record that doesn’t need more cowbell, so to speak. From the persistent single bloop throughout the latter half of ‘Patterns 1’, to the playful cacophony driving the mid section of ‘Patterns 3’, and jangling introduction to ‘Patterns 4’, the album thrives behind Ripatti’s arrangements.
However intriguing the percussive elements on Vertical Ascent are, it would be amiss to discount the other 2/3 of the Trio. The droning synthesizers that meander about are a curious background for the other sounds to play on. If there was an element of the album that embodies the wonderfully simple album cover, it would be the spacey synth layers. ‘Patterns 4’ features some of the most prominent examples, down to the last few seconds of the record where they are cascading back into silence.
At only 40 minutes, Vertical Ascent is a coherent, digestible set of brain massaging sounds with excellent replay value. It is one of those pieces that begs the question ‘What really constitutes music?’, and submits a resounding rhythmic answer.