Gently ruinous yet strangely static: Implex Grace – Through Luminescent Passages II

by 5:4

Another netlabel churning out the good stuff is Distance Recordings; in fact, the stuff is so good it’s a shame they haven’t released anything in a physical format; perhaps, in time they will. Distance’s first release was Through Luminescent Passages I, discussed on here back in July, created by a relative newcomer on the ambient noise scene, Implex Grace, a.k.a. Michael Perry Goodman. In that post, i explored the contrast presented by that album and its successor, the astonishing The Black Tapes EP; at the time, i didn’t really hear Black Tapes as a progression from TLP I, but rather as two parallel releases stemming from the same, highly turbulent, creative source. With the release earlier this week of the second Through Luminescent Passages installment, things have become very much clearer.

The opening track, “Sunrise Over Paradise”, instantly reveals its source material (a song from the early ’80s, but i won’t spoil it for those who don’t know which), and i quickly found myself wishing that Goodman had covered his tracks a little better, as the rest of his music keeps the originals happily anonymous. The gradually increasing sense of disintegration seems at odds with the title, more akin to a sunset than sunrise; not the only occasion when i’ve found myself puzzled at the relationship between the music and its title. It’s followed by “Archive Of Truths”, more lengthy but not really exploring a more interesting idea; this opening pair comes across as a largely inconsequential couple of tracks, sketches rather than fully-realised ideas.

The first track to show real promise is the initially resonant and bell-like “The Prophecy -or- The Paradigm”. It soon yields to a vast, buzzing morass, at the heart of which repeats a sombre, descending phrase, tolling like deep, funereal gongs. While very simple, the effect is utterly hypnotic, creating an aural environment that pulls the listener into its midst and holds one there, encouched in an overwhelming outpouring of sound. It is a superb synthesis of the more ambient soundscapes from TLP I with the abrasive onslaught of Black Tapes, in the process clarifying both those earlier releases. i’ve heard few more arresting openings than that of “Fractal Flowers Bloom”, sounding almost as though the music were tearing itself in two. A perfect cadence into an imperfect landscape, pockmarked and pitted, delicately ruinous. Curious overtones dance above the scorched surface, unintentionally i think, and while at first they annoyed me, i’ve grown to feel them as an integral, even a necessary part of the mix, giving just the tiniest fraction of relief from the epic heaviness of this track. These miniscule sounds could even be heard as the seed of the track’s ultimate transition towards a kind of tired brightness, ending in a more major strain, but nonetheless hard-won and spent. It’s remarkable how much delicacy can be found in textures like this (the reference to ‘flowers’ seems entirely appropriate), as well as incredible – but realistic, honest – beauty.

The next track returns to the more static, directionless mode of the opening pair. Titled “VOX CELESTE / When Angels Sing”, it’s unsurprising to hear vocal music as a prominent source of material; there may also be an organ in there – “Vox (or, more accurately, “Voix”) Celeste” would suggest so), but it’s not apparent if that is the case. The music feels pinned, writhing and spasming throughout, but always constrained; an occasional allowance of the music to shift harmonically only makes more emphatic how immoveable it is elsewhere. “Glass Castles” is a reworking of its previous incarnation heard towards the end of Goodman’s hour-long “Summertime Sleepy Theater II” (it begins 54 minutes in). In that earlier guise, the half-whispered voices were set above immense, deep bass frequencies, so astonishingly powerful that they shook everything to the point of imminent collapse. Unfortunately, “Glass Castles” is relatively bland and monotonous by contrast; it retains the voices, oscillating between them and plangent oboe-like protests, but ejects those deep bass sounds completely, making for another ultimately directionless track. This may well be the weakest track on the album.

Thankfully, the final track, “Lux Amoris Aeterni” returns to the strength of vision demonstrated in tracks three and four. It demonstrates real skill in the control and juxtaposition of elements, melding exultant vocal ululations into the first genuinely warm texture yet to be heard on the album (“Fractal Flowers Bloom” is full of heat, but not comfortably so). Noise continues to pervade all, but now with a new connotation: that of overload, stemming from passion, rather than the kind of disintegrative disruption that it seems to imply elsewhere. It’s the closest this release gets to its elder sibling, and as such is a fitting valediction to the Through Luminescent Passages project.

i haven’t tried very hard to conceal my overall disappointment at TLP II; having spent a great deal of time with it over the last few days, i don’t think there’s any doubt that it lacks the breadth of imagination and creative vigour heard on TLP I and Black Tapes; the focus isn’t anywhere near as sharp. Four of the seven tracks – for all their buzzing noise – are strangely static, actually sounding rather sterile, almost dull. This is very surprising, and one can only hope Michael Goodman steers a path away from this kind of easy shoegaze in his future work; certainly, the three strong tracks on this album are proof positive that there’s so much more to Implex Grace than that. i don’t think TLP II is the best Implex Grace can be, but it’s perhaps unfair to put that kind of expectation on one album. Nonetheless, taken as a whole the two albums represent a genuinely original creative voice, one capable of a far-reaching emotional depth, a voice that fully deserves to continue to be listened to in the future.

i said it’s a shame that Distance Recordings hasn’t released anything physical; having said that, they are now starting to do the decent thing, and release in lossless format. Textures as dense as these, laden with so much filigree, require nothing other than lossless, so it’s doubly good news to see that both this new release as well as the first TLP album are now available in FLAC (sadly, no FLAC yet for The Black Tapes – which arguably needs it most – but fingers crossed…). Finally, since my last post about Implex Grace, Michael Goodman has made the entire output available from the Implex Grace website.

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