Monolake
Hong Kong


5.0
classic

Review

by Trifolium USER (33 Reviews)
May 9th, 2021 | 138 replies


Release Date: 1997 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Ambient done right.

Just a quick online search for ambient music can result in a stack of records that cannot be listened to in a regular human being’s lifespan. Bandcamp offers 170 pages of ocean sounds, slowly developing -if you can even call it that- synth drones, and quiet washes of heavily processed guitars. YouTube forces three hour plus videos down your throat, with carefully constructed titles such as AMBIENT CHILLOUT LOUNGE RELAXING MUSIC, Ambient Study Music To Concentrate, and Miracle Tone Healing Delta Waves. It seems Ambient Music, in whatever flavour you are looking for, can be found everywhere. Many creators behind these hours and hours of sound collages seem to take quantity over quality too. And with monthly or even weekly release schedules, it is hard to imagine how artists can maintain a sense of quality throughout their output, regardless of whether that was even there to begin with. You get the feeling that they are in their attic, just twisting some knobs behind their laptop; a little bit of this, a little bit more of that: voil*, another album is done! And it’s three hours long! Who wouldn’t want that?

This bland sea of ambient music can partially be explained by user-based music sharing websites such as the aforementioned Bandcamp, or Soundcloud, that enable artists to release music without pesky labels filtering out the lower quality stuff. A side effect of this (of course occasionally wonderful) system is that many hours of music released under the ambient tag can feel particularly soulless and uninspired. After all, you do not need much more than some field recordings, and maybe some synths and a little tweaking, to produce a record in this genre. But what can you do to make it good? Perhaps it is useful to look over our collective ambient shoulders and see what ambient albums did manage to stand the test of time.

Let’s have a look at Monolake, and their debut LP, Hongkong, which was released in 1997, in one of those iconic metal boxes of the Chain Reaction record label.

This album is classic in the genre, effortlessly blending ambient stretches with dub techno and minimal techno to form one coherent whole. And there we have the first point that becomes apparent: for an ambient record to stand out in a positive way, music with a sense of momentum is key. Each track here has a clear direction. As often is the case with techno music, patterns weave in and out of focus, with identities shifting constantly from one section to the next. On Honkong, Index is a good example of this. Its beat provides the backbone, and just below this repetitious surface, synth lines move in and out of phase, ultimately ensuring that no section is the same as the ones that came before. There is a constant feeling of movement on this record, yet without losing that sacred trope in ambient music of repeating patterns, of long and seemingly homogenous tracks that stay well and truly in one mood throughout their runtime. Lantau is another great example. Its bouncy sounding bass line repeats cycle after cycle, but with each iteration, slowly other sounds are added to the mix. Sometimes you do not even notice how much has changed, yet when you skip back to a previous section you can clearly hear the difference.

The album is diverse too. The diversity here can at least partially be explained by the fact that this album consists of a collection of four singles, which were welded together with field recordings of a trip to Hongkong. Yet however they achieved this, it seems that this is our second point: finding the right balance between diversity and repetition.

Whereas Occam has a booming 4/4 beat, exemplary of so many techno tracks, Arte instead opts for a sound that can almost be described as krautrock. And later on, Mass Transit Railway discards beats altogether. This track certainly is an album highlight, and one of the best examples of what ambient music can achieve when done right. In a truly spectacular fashion Monolake just let the music breathe, and in doing so, they create an incredible amount of space. The confidence with which they stretch out the synth washes on which the track leans is astounding. They create an hypnotizing tidal-like effect by allowing a whopping 25 seconds for each cycle of just those two drawn out, parabolic synth notes, with what feels like an immense chasm of silence in between. This strong foundation creates so much tension that it could have been enough on its own. Yet Monolake do not stop there, adding a layer of effects that keep on evolving, and without even noticing it seven minutes have passed by and the album has come to a close.

Surely that is how you do it.

---

Monolake here are Robert Henke and Gerhard Behles. Around the time of release, they cofounded Ableton, the software company behind Ableton Live, with Bernd Roggendorf. Later, Henke would be the sole mind behind Monolake.



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Comments:Add a Comment 
Trifolium
May 9th 2021


39124 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

I love Mass Transit Railway, can you tell?

parksungjoon
May 9th 2021


47235 Comments


inb4 arguments over your use of "field recordings" and "sound collage" since rym considers them genres unto their own not necessarily related to ambient

parksungjoon
May 9th 2021


47235 Comments


>Arte instead opts for a sound that can almost be described as krautrock

motorik vibez fuck yea

parksungjoon
May 9th 2021


47235 Comments


disagree with some broader ideas (not related to the album itself) but thats a matter of opinion

[:

Trifolium
May 9th 2021


39124 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Yeah I was afraid of the whole genres and subgenres thing already with this one. Kind of a can of worms situation. But working towards less electronic orphans here is always a good thing!

parksungjoon
May 9th 2021


47235 Comments


yeeeeee

parksungjoon
May 9th 2021


47235 Comments


contrib when? [:

Bedex
May 9th 2021


3133 Comments


TRIF REVIEW TRIF REVIEW ALERT PEW PEW


contrib when [2]

Trifolium
May 9th 2021


39124 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Hihihihihih what about YOU and YOU! 😮

parksungjoon
May 9th 2021


47235 Comments


never

Trifolium
May 9th 2021


39124 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Hmmm yes, I can relate to that. I'm always in doubt whether to apply or not. I think it might put too much pressure on producing reviews at an acceptable pace, and I don't know whether that works for me. But then again, it just might have a stimulating effect too!

Jots
Emeritus
May 9th 2021


7562 Comments


my advice here is to be careful when it comes to reviewing genres you might not often review or aren’t square in the middle of your wheelhouse - intro paragraphs like this one where you provide the reader large generalized context on the genre can give the reader the impression that you don’t know the genre very well and are dipping your toes into it, noticing things that everyone kinda knows and treating it like it’s novel enough to be an attention-grabbing introduction. it would be better I think if the intro was less about “ambient” and more about a more specific realm/sentiment/scene that this album captures.

A decent amount of time is spent talking about how modern formats have made it easier for artists to churn out seemingly endless content, but then we ultimately revert to an album that precedes that timeframe. Which is a fine comparison maybe but not when the setup itself takes up nearly half of your word count.

If anything I’m kinda surprised that you mentioned his development of Ableton in passing, but didn’t delve into how, in some ways, he’s sorta kinda played a hand in the oversaturation of a lot of ambient & techno material, in making that sort of workflow a lot more accessible. Would have been a cool historical angle to take since this is a historical release in some ways

(Trying to be constructive in how I’m reading this review. it’s good but I wanted to bring up a couple points)

Trifolium
May 9th 2021


39124 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks for the feedback Jots! Appreciated! It's interesting to hear your take on this, and looking back I can absolutely see what you mean. I'll make sure to check for these issues in my next ones.

Source
May 9th 2021


19917 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

sweet, do you like porter ricks?

Source
May 9th 2021


19917 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

oh whoops i guess you recommended that one lol

Trifolium
May 9th 2021


39124 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Haha yeah I super like him. I love all of the Chain Reaction gang.

Hyperion1001
Emeritus
May 9th 2021


26093 Comments


album rules, cyan is probably my favorite monolake tune.

Trifolium
May 9th 2021


39124 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Cyan is so good yes.



Hope you dig it occy! It's a lovely record.

Avagantamos
May 9th 2021


8937 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

yay we need more Monolake reviews around here =]

Trifolium
May 9th 2021


39124 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Absolutely what I thought! This is only the third one 😮



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