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Russell Mills/Undark - Pearl + Umbra


Those of you who remember the dearly departed ambient label em:t may remember Undark; their release on that label was a study in eerie, churning ambient, held together by a certain classic kind of restraint. Now Undark has a new label, Bella Union in the UK, and a new CD release, "Pearl + Umbra" that by far wins my award for best ambient techno release of 1999.

Just reading the list of "guest artists" on the back of the CD case is enough to practically make a person swoon: the list of contributors includes Robin Guthrie of the Cocteau Twins as a principal collaborator (on sonic mandarin, of course), and the album also features contributions from Michael Brook, Harold Budd, Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Peter Gabriel, Bill Laswell, Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Hector Zazou, and about a dozen others. Rumor has it that the process of creating the album involved these individuals sending raw sound to Mills for him to manipulate and build the album around, but in many cases it's clear the contributors are actively engaged in making some fantastically dense and complex techno.

The album opens with "Canyon: Split Asunder," featuring a determined beat right out of the gate, and weaving a multitude of voices in and out of the mix in an eerie and unintelligible fashion. "Swallow Crystals" sounds like some weird transdimensional machine, with gears that generate wild beats and insane swoops of sound over a menacing bass line. On "Room Of The Sixteen Shimmers," guest vocalist David Sylvian someone who normally irritates me to no end provides a silky and insidious vocal that perfectly complements the dark groove Mills has created. "All Wise Fly (Pneuma)" offers a reckless horn section on top of a disturbing back alley beat, a beat that seems to reverberate against abandoned buildings at night. With "A Swoon In Amber," we're taken on a spooky trip through an underground cavern, where hidden societies hide, and on "Heaven Dips," we come perilously close to a weird religious chant and ritual. By the time we reach "All Wise Fly (Grapes And Bones)," the horns have taken us deeper into the underground, eventually finding the source of the beat itself in an insane hall of cyborg sound.

All right, maybe that's slightly metaphorical.

The point is, this album is incredibly lush, very intense, and is a definite improvement over Undark's earlier em:t release. There's an aggressive drive to this album that never overwhelms, but instead generates a sense of eternal motion. As grooves appear and disappear, it's obvious they are simply making themselves available to us on a temporary basis before sliding back into their home dimensions.

Tags : psychedelic
Rating : Teen - Drugs
Posted on: 2001-03-05 00:00:00