Couesnon by Erik Levander

Release date: January 26, 2018
Label: Katuktu Collective

It’s perhaps arguable that the ambient genre can be divided up into two very far-reaching categories. On one hand, we have the more subtle droning aspect of ambient music, where the music expresses itself as a beautiful calming journey through pastel-coloured landscapes. On the other hand, we see a far more experimental side of ambient music, where more maximalist techniques are deployed, enveloping the listener in something far deeper reaching. The latest album Couesnon from musician and composer Erik Levander falls mostly within the latter of these categories, utilizing processed clarinet to create an immersive ambient experience rich in detail and emotion.

As the album begins, glitchy techniques throw us into a world that feels unnerving and unsettling, suggesting that this isn’t an ambient album for relaxing, but rather one for complete immersion in the world being conjured up. Tracks seem to slowly build up from electronic layers, crackling into existence before suddenly fizzling out again, echoing with an incredible presence that inspires a variety of different emotions, all depending on the aesthetic of the specific track. With the clarinet forming much of the basis for the ambience in the album, it all results in a wonderful album experience, a rich tapestry of densely layered electronic and ambient layers. Whilst electronic layers seem switch from support to sabotage of the music, the processed clarinet creates something hauntingly beautiful that is expressed in whole album.

Whilst the ambient sections of the music offer an extraordinary breath of emotional air in their presence, the glitch elements of the music provide some of the real flair, making the album feel much like a battle between the minimalist and the maximalist. It’s almost as though the music itself is fighting to be heard, battling against electronic interference and climbing out of the deep and dark recess that it has been born from. At times it feels like it can win, and at others, it feels like it has no hope at all, and in this constantly shifting power we see the driving force of the album itself. Just when it feels a little too heavy and unbearable, it all subsides away into something calming and gentle, and back again at a moment’s notice.

Couesnon is in many ways a rather surprising album experience. It is one that in equal measure expresses both beauty and fear, with neither one dominating the album to the point of excess. It all works so wonderfully, showcasing a wonderful blending of disparate emotions and feelings and showing how in certain contexts there can be a unifying element between it all. Ambient albums with this level of creativity and depth seem pretty hard to come by these days, which is perhaps what makes it all the more rewarding, especially when (for this listener at least) it’s not something expected in any way. There is much to be admired here from Levander, whose created a very enduring and lasting album experience, one that is bold and daring enough to try something a little different.

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