Review Summary: Ambient techno perfection.
We are introduced to Voices From The Lake
with the sounds of running water, light but steady percussion, and quivering synths. A smooth, gentle introduction, and a momentary snapshot that’s incapable of giving much indication to the sounds that follow. It’s the gentle beginning of a massive journey, and In a way, the perfect introduction. There’s not a single moment on the album that would capture its smooth flow, natural soundscapes, and monumental scope with any sense of accuracy. Voices From The Lake
is delivered as an 11-track album, which seems to be a choice based on tradition more than anything else. Isolating an individual track here doesn’t just diminish its impact through the removal of context. Like watching a pivotal movie scene without knowing the characters or motives, it completely cuts out a tremendous build of setting, atmosphere, and momentum. Voices From The Lake was meant to be listened to in full, with focused ears, and anything less will drastically diminish its impact.
It’s a method of listening that doesn’t exist quite like it used to, and one that’s generally even easier to overlook with regards to the techno genre. Even the spaciest brands of atmospheric techno typically leave their mark within the confines of track durations. Techno that plays out as an epic composition over an hour-long duration is a rarity, and it has never been done on the level that it has been here. It seems obvious that Donato Dozzy and Neel (the two members of VFTL) approached the album with a different mindset than is generally used in the genre. There are a few moments of relatively large dynamic shifts here, which typically punctuate track changes. The transition from opener “Iyo” into “Vega” is probably the most obvious. The percussion and ominous melodies that were slowly built over “Iyo”’s gorgeous ten minutes suddenly are taken up a notch, falling into a more focused rhythmic punch with a harder edge to the lead melody and surrounding atmospherics. But typically the dynamics of Voices From The Lake come and go without any obvious sign of their entrance, and completely new soundscapes are so smoothly arrived at that sometimes it’s easy to forget that you were hearing something completely different a few minutes ago.
The first 25 minutes of Voices From The Lake
are entirely filled with dense layerings of cold melodies and droning ambience that fill out an imaginary environment with a beautiful mix of familiar and foreign sounds. Like much of the best electronic works that have a foot in ambient, from Music Has The Right To Children
, there’s a warm sense of comfort in the familiar that retains a perfect sense of balance with the other-worldly. You’d never know it while listening due to how expertly crafted it all is, but when “S.T. (VFTL Rework)” kicks in, everything before it feels like a warm up. If any one moment could be seen as the climax here (or at least the turning point when the album reaches its peak and never looks back) it’s when the dark ambience slowly subsides while the warm piano notes start and the peaceful surrounding aura starts to fill the air. The album’s appeal is never quite as obvious, and with its placing after the powerful build that came before it, a more powerful blend of warm feelings and atmosphere simply has never been achieved in electronic music.
Because of the prominence of the charming leads that take the forefront of “S.T. (VFTL Rework)”, nothing that follows it is ever quite as obvious in its execution. In truth, you don’t want them to be. The remainder of the album never falters in quality, it simply accomplishes the same with more subtlety. But from then on out, it’s nothing but sublime. Everything is packed to the brim with rich atmospheres that build vivid worlds for the listener to explore. It’s completely unparalleled in its feeling of imaginary travel through foreign environments. “In Giova” is initially anchored by steady 4/4 kicks and a visceral, pulsating bassline provide some of the album’s most rhythmically captivating moments, but eventually blossoms into something even more powerful with a simple repeating melody that’s continuously surrounded by swelling melodies sounding like they would fit right in on a Stars of the Lid album. Generally, if the percussion wasn’t so firmly planted in Dozzy and Neel’s techno roots, it would be easy to draw comparisons to some of the ambient greats. The fact that the steady, techno rhythms are present throughout is not only what makes this stand out as an ambient work, but they also provide a hypnotic rhythmic pulse that just add one more layer of captivation to the already mesmerizing work.
Voices From The Lake
is a techno album first and foremost. As a continuous mix, it never drops out of its steady, bassy kicks. But its largest appeal comes from the ambient aspects that appeal to fans of music found on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works
or William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops
. It is one of the best examples of an album to get lost in, and one that’s much more rewarding if you do so. It’s rare to find such rich ambience in techno, and it’s rare to find such focused drum beats in ambient. Truthfully, both genres are made better from it. Voices From The Lakes
is a delicately and expertly crafted masterpiece, and one that shouldn’t be missed by fans of either.