Review Summary: Six stages of purgatory.Tsalal
, the debut LP from Brooklyn, New York-based ambient duo Ariadne, is a bizarrely evocative balance of classicism and experimental electronics. Christine Lanx’s highly-trained operatic vocals seem long-forgotten, suddenly unearthed centuries later in an unforgiving spiritual soundscape crafted by Benjamin Forest. “I Thirst” begins appropriately with the sound of candles blowing out, playing upon the album’s title (meaning, in Hebrew, “to grow dark”). Just as if blindfolded, every sound pops while Ariadne lead you down a corridor. So effective is this tactic that the noises seem to yield physical response, as sub-bass rolls down the back of the neck and airy hums blow into the ear. Toying with medieval themes and avant-garde, Ariadne achieve Gregorian chanting effects via MIDI pads, soon rocketed by crunchy synths while Christine Lanx laments with gorgeous vocals. When she sings, “I-I-I feel nothing,
” (on “Rejoice”), amidst the flock of non-feeling computer monks, it’s sobering. Despite the largely synthetic atmosphere, there is undeniable emotion, frustrated by digital constraint. She grieves, “For my soul is everlasting / for this place is everlasting / I float in and out / where can I lay my head"
” summing up much of Tsalal'
s sentiment: unappreciated beauty stuck in limbo.
Lanx is resilient, however. Dark monolith “Spare Me” consists largely of furious sub-bass, looming drones, and glitchy, stuttering rhythms, while Lanx remains the only constant force throughout. The contrast of her voice with the instrumentals is very Beauty and the Beast
-like, with her as the patient, sympathetic tamer. Occasionally, she meshes beautifully with the congregation of chant-effect-things, granting them their humanity when they rise up to her level. Tonally, the track ranges from austere and pastoral to bizarre and iconoclastic, as though Ariadne are building a church only to let demons through the doors. (The ending bit is terrifying; sinister, contorted vocals rip through the veil.) Moments like these show the duo’s ability to go from ear-tickling to truly captivating - background music that grabs your attention with a jolt. Continuing this balance of divine and wicked, “The Shadow” begins with spacey-yet-oozing synths and venomous spectres. The fairly high rate of activity combined with a comparably short runtime (six-and-a-half minutes) makes for a more immediate effect. It’s dark, harrowing, fascinating, and a contender for yours truly’s song of the year. When Christine claims, “The shadow approaches and I dissolve / only my body remains,
” before being swallowed in pitch-black, the sense of tragedy is almost gut-churning; you really have to experience it for yourself.
is a bit challenging. Much like the album’s narrator’s experience, it takes time to rationalize anything, and often the result is discouragingly bleak. Ariadne cleverly combine a rewarding listening experience with an ironically unrewarding plot line. Sometimes there really is no light, as closer “The Darkness” can attest (“and now, here I dwell, for I have desired it
”). It’s arguable whether or not there is peaceful closure, or if she’s just feigning acceptance in order to cope. Regardless of what conclusion you draw, Tsalal
is worth every revisit, even if each trip through the darkness is expectedly less revealing than the last.