Since the mid-2000s, a lot of ambient music has been moving into increasingly abrasive and gothic territory—at times even cozying into the coffin right next to doom metal. The recent reappraisal of New Age music, on the other hand, has brought some welcome sweetness and even humour back to electronic drift.
Since Light In The Attic’s radiant homage to the genre, I Am The Centre (2013), other labels have summoned the courage to dust off obscure titles and proudly claim the New Age designation, rather than be fearful of its associations. Shallow cynics might scoff that Toronto’s Telephone Explosion is late to the party. However, their ostensible tardiness speaks to something pertinent about this revival—it isn’t a mere fad. New Age is a body of work that’s in the course of being liberated from the prison of supposed good taste.
Steve Roach has never been in either the ambient or New Age camp per se, and Structures from Silence (reissued on vinyl here for the first time since its original release), like the best titles to have resurfaced throughout this time, calls this blurry distinction into question. It’s gently earnest, unabashedly emotive, colourful but never gaudy, and, perhaps most importantly, places an emphasis on immersive structures.
Roach’s tonal palette is decidedly synthetic, yet its glistening silvery pads carry great warmth. The opening piece, “Reflections in Suspension,” feels like sitting in an enormous celestial music box with its slowly orbiting motives twinkling dimly into yawning expanse. The sprawling twenty-nine-minute title track shares the same vast spatial sense, yet contrasts the axial motion with a more radial orientation. Its generous blossoming sonorities seem to push out again and again from a central focal point.
The coda of the middle piece, “Quiet Friend,” stands in slight juxtaposition to the rest of the album. This brief four-minute span is led by a glassy, digital-sounding, bell-like figure, in a mild-mannered shift away from the soft, sighing shapes and timbres of the rest of the album. It’s also perhaps its most “New Age-y” passage, if such a thing exists.
There’s no denying that Structures from Silence offers a sumptuous and comfortable listening space, and this highlights another crucial aspect of this aforementioned resurgence. As much as anything else, it serves to affirm that beauty and strangeness, sincerity and depth, comfort and challenge, are no longer strict dichotomies in today’s musical landscape.