A Dancing Beggar: Follow The Dark As If It Were Light

Though I missed out on hearing A Dancing Beggar's debut album What We Left Behind, I've since learned that it presents a fusion of ambient and post-rock styles that was well-received upon its 2009 release. So what does that have to do with the latest collection by UK-based musician James Simmons? I mention it for the simple reason that Follow The Dark As If It Were Light finds A Dancing Beggar pretty much banishing post-rock altogether for an album of immersive ambient-drone set-pieces, though, for the record, echoes of post-rock do surface in two respects: first of all, the incorporation of electric guitar invites the association, as Simmons uses it (along with the piano) as a primary melodic and textural voice; and, secondly, the album's penultimate track, “Forget This Place,” invites the genre label by adding a plodding drum pattern to its climactic build. But Follow The Dark As If It Were Light otherwise concentrates on integrating field recordings, piano loops, vocals, samples, and processed sounds of one kind or another into quietly epic yet also highly personalized sound paintings.

“Creeping Into Dusk” immediately plunges the listener into an immersive field of shimmering ambient design, its subtle sense of uplift generated by an overlapping array of hazy tones that seem to call out to the listener and draw him/her in closer—a splendidly serenading and seductive overture for the equally satisfying settings that follow. “Empty Boats” (dedicated, we're told, to sailors who've lost their lives at sea) weaves a modest number of elements—a simple piano motif, wordless voices, shimmering cymbal flourishes, guitar figures, and processed tones—into a plaintive whole that exudes yearning, while “Returning” (inspired by a drive home through a storm) unfolds unhurriedly across ten minutes, working as it does so chanted vocals in amongst Simmons' hazy cloud of piano and guitar figures. Samples and field recordings are integrated with restraint, and the album unfolds at an admirably patient and deliberate pace. While the material isn't song-oriented in the conventional sense, it does nevertheless suggest some degree of connection to Sigur Rós, specifically in the heartfelt piano melodies that occasionally thread themselves through the album's pieces; “There is Hope Here,” for instance, includes an affecting piano melody of a kind that'd be familiar to Sigur Rós devotees. Above all else, a becalmed character permeates the album in such a way that its appeal is enhanced and that makes it, as a listening experience, all the more satisfying.

May 2011