In 2004 ambient guru Harold Budd
announced that Avalon Sutra would be
his swan song, but in the time-honored tradition of musicians who publicly
declare their retirement, he didn’t stay away for long. Since his return to the
studio, Budd has worked primarily with two artists: Robin Guthrie (releasing a
brace of albums with the former Cocteau Twin in 2007) and Clive Wright, with
whom he recorded last year’s A Song for
Lost Blossoms and now Candylion.
Budd has an extensive history of
collaborations with musicians boasting diverse, innovative creative pedigrees:
Brian Eno, Hector Zazou, Bill Nelson, Andy Partridge, John Foxx and Jah Wobble,
to name just a handful. In such company, Wright — best known for his tenure
with the rather flaccid ’80s soft rockers Cock Robin — might appear a peculiar
choice. Nevertheless, Candylion, like
its predecessor, is unmistakably the work of two artists on the same wavelength,
a poised, quietly meditative dialogue between Wright’s serpentine,
Frippertronic-style guitar textures and Budd’s minimalist piano melodies and
gauzy, amorphous synth washes.
“Ambient Music,” according
to Eno, “must be able to accommodate many levels of listening
attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is
interesting.” Judged by those criteria, Candylion is slightly uneven —
occasionally falling on the ignorable side of Eno’s equation — but, for the most part, it successfully accommodates
seemingly contradictory active and passive modes of listening: the album’s most
memorable material works as a non-intrusive component of the environment (as
agreeable background music) while at the same time it’s substantive enough to
be the exclusive focus of attention — an aural experience in which the
listener can wholly immerse him/herself.
Candylion marks a
slight departure from A Song for Lost
Blossoms insofar as it feels more concise and focused. Not only are the
tracks generally shorter, but the incorporation of elements such as acoustic
guitar, harp and percussion tends to add more definition and structure to Budd
and Wright’s open-ended, drifting soundscapes.
The simplest and most understated
pieces are its strongest: for example, “The Bells,” with its
delicate, sedate East Asian ornamentality; “She Slipped Through the
Door,” which balances drones and melody to attain an austere majesty; and
“In the Midst of Life,” which subtly builds a hymnal gravitas with
its otherworldly choral arrangement. “Eaux d’Artifice” is the album’s
tour de force as Wright loops and weaves his sinuous, fluid guitar lines around
Budd’s slow-falling droplets of melody.
The only weakness here derives
from obtrusive rhythmic elements that render a couple of tracks rather ordinary
and generic. “Sunday After the War,” for instance, has a shuffling
drum beat, which jars with its otherwise calm flow; moreover, sequencing this
track as the album’s opener gets the proceedings off to a less than compelling
start. Elsewhere, a naggingly busy lite-jazz beat brings “Beautiful
Intruder” perilously close to New Age schmaltz.
But in the broader context of the
album, these are fairly minor quibbles.
Budd has talked self-deprecatingly
about his rather limited musical vocabulary, implying that his signature
amalgam of minimalism and melody is perhaps more accident than design. Either
way, although the lexicon of his sonic idiom might not be especially extensive,
Budd rarely fails to infuse his work with a wealth of moods and emotional
resonances that belies his supposed limitations. On the whole, this
collaboration with Wright continues to make that point.
Standout Tracks: “Eaux
d’Artifice,” “She Slipped Through the Door,” “The
Bells” WILSON NEATE