Title: Excursions in Ambience: The Fourth Frontier
Format: CD (limited Edition)
Genre: Ambient, abstract, IDM, Post Rock, Experimental, drone
Before I get into the musical aspect of this compilation, I should touch on this particular version of it. You are most likely to find the jewel case CD version used online or in the bargain bins at record shops, or, if you’re lucky, the DJ-promo double LP version. And maybe, by some bizarre fluke, you might find this version: the limited edition (hand numbered, 1500 copies) packaged in a reflective, silver cardboard folder with a holographic cover. The catalog number is even different from that of the regular CD release.
The reason why I mention this is because I have been trying to figure out just what this version is: a promo or an advanced copy, or just a unique limited edition? Very few places online even acknowledge this release, and if they do, they don’t distinguish it from the regular version. I found myself having to upload the information about this issue on RYM, so hopefully, this might eventually get mentioned on discogs.com or something and some new information might emerge.
Now that I have that nonsense out of the way, we can get to the meat of the animal. Ironically, being the fourth release in the popular Excursions in Ambience series from Caroline/Astralwerks, this is the most ambient of the bunch, arguably, according to some online reviews. Volume one was more on the house styled side of the genre, while the Second Orbit was essentially more of a remix album by The Orb (a good one, at least). I can’t comment on the third, as I don’t own a copy yet, but what I have heard places it more on the experimental side of things. On that note, I feel personally, that is where this volume falls as well. The range of songs varies, and that kind of hits you right away within the first two tracks. The sonic and stylistic differences between Flying Saucer Attack and the second piece by Me-Sheen are as opposite as possible yet still hang within the ambient umbrella.
Luna Sol (David Christophere of Rabbit in the Moon) presents a darker side of things, despite a gentle and uplifting beat that sneaks in half way through. Ben Niell flows in with his mutant-trumpet in hand, and despite using a very redundant vocal sample, he is able to pull off a fairly decent ambient piece that has remained a personal favorite of mine for years.
And finally, Far Out Son of Lung growls into view. This is another alias of the infamous Future Sound of London, and here we find them breaking a little bit from their circa-ISDN material with this fairly distorted and noisy excursion. The duo, up to this point, have only released one vinyl under their Far Out Son of Lung guise and this track does not appear on it, making it fairly scarce. It would have been nice to see a fully-fledged release to materialize under this project, especially with promising material such as this.
Labradford roar to life next. This is truly dark and almost hints at a drone styled piece, but is a tad bit on the post rock side of things. This really stands out on the album, fading in and out and coming to a dull but frightening growl at times and eventually roars like the waves of spewing radio active matter from a supernova. By far, this is one of my favorite tracks of all time, just for the bizarreness of it. Granted, as of the date I’ve posted this, I don’t own any releases from this band. Ain’t it a shame?
As if sensing we needed a hug or something, System 7 roll in (back when they were still known as 777) and bathe us in gentle light, soft lulling guitar riffs fed through some synths and pedals to the point of no recognition and gentle string/orchestral samples. It is quite nice and gentle.
Single Cell Orchestra is next and enters the stage sounding a bit like a soundscape track. It is deeply flowing, quiet and drippy. Eventually, it builds with very light percussion, light synth and piano bits, and despite the mounting sounds, it remains dark and chilling. Very emotive.
Obscure project, Freezer sneaks in, being penultimate. Strange noises eventually build over slow and soft sirens, helicopter swooshes, vocal samples and light percussion. It feels dark at times but light and warm at other moments. This is the longest track on this compilation, clocking it at just over eleven minutes. It’s at this point that my headphones start to bug out and I can only hear things in my left ear… This kind of ruins things a bit!. Anyway, a dog starts to bark, things get a little atmospheric and a few minutes pass and things warm up a bit. This is a well-crafted ambient piece for sure. Wait, is that a goat?
Node rounds out the album with this final piece. “Swamp” is exclusive to this release, which makes this special, especially since to date, Node have only released one album and one EP, and yet, have made a huge impact on the ambient genre. Many have remarked that most of the music Node created sounds a lot like a lost Tangerine Dream album, and I would have to agree. There is a lot of analog and sounds that just scream “we are very experimental” and thus, create a similar feel to some of the darker TD tracks, especially with this piece here.
As my headphones throw a fit, I’ll just move on to my next point… Should you buy this? If you like the more experimental side of ambient and something that is a lot different from what was being crowned as masterpieces in the genre in 1994, then yes. This compilation alone, in my opinion, proves that great and noteworthy ambient music DID exist after 1994, the year that many claim was when the best ambient works came out. This compilation works well as a standalone album as well, making the previous three in this series the “old world”, so to speak. I would definitely recommend this album. It only sounds dated in a few parts and the rest really stands out wonderfully.
As far as prices go, your best bet is to buy the regular Astralwerks version on CD and avoid paying loads for the vinyl set, unless you’re into spending money on rare bits! If you do find a copy of the limited edition CD, grab it. While I haven’t yet found a copy of this issue online, I have talked to a few people who have this copy and they’ve all said they didn’t pay much over $15 for it. Of course, now that I’ve said something about it, the prices will go up. Naturally…
4/5 out of 5.