The ambient-classical ground tilled by Anna Rose Carter and Ed Hamilton on this eponymously titled debut outing under the Dead Light name will sound familiar to those acquainted with recordings by Field Rotation, Nils Frahm, Dustin O'Halloran, Dakota Suite, and the like. Yet though the UK duo's album might not carve out new territory, their album is still an extremely accomplished and satisfying variation on an established theme.
There's a pronounced pastoral character to the album in keeping with the duo's decision to migrate from London to a peaceful, remote locale in the countryside; their music's hand-woven quality also aligns with the rustic lifestyle they've newly adopted. The presence on many tracks of an old, close-mic'd piano Anna's grandfather gave her strengthens the music's intimate feel, and, similar to an act like The Balustrade Ensemble, Dead Light draws from an eclectic array of sound sources to generate its material, with daisy-chained reel-to-reel machines, homemade synthesizers, and hydrophones a sampling of the devices included on the album; further to that, Carter and Hamilton bring an adventurous sensibility to the album in warping tape in various ways and amending the piano's sound with screwdrivers and coins. Don't conclude from that, however, that Dead Light is an eleven-track exercise in self-indulgent, gratuitous experimentation; on the contrary, Carter and Hamilton take great care in ensuring that all such treatments—acoustic, electronic, and otherwise—are used in service to the piece in question.
Entrancement sets in early when “Blooms” wraps the metronomic, harp-like patterns of the piano in swaths of hazy textures, the music insistently flowing like a burbling country stream. As hoary a cliche as it is, it's hard to resist likening the piano's sound to falling snowflakes when, on “Slow Slowly” and elsewhere, the prepared instrument's fragile notes fall so delicately, and in using the piano's soundboard as a plate reverb, Carter and Hamilton coat their material in a mist that makes the music feel all the more ethereal.Theirs is a pretty and largely melancholy music, for sure, but it also has bite, and many arresting moments surface—the strings' sudden rise midway through “Slow Slowly” and the Reich-ian figures that make “In Red and Red” suggest a treatment in miniature of Music For 18 Musicians, to cite two examples. And speaking of The Balustrade Ensemble, the combination of hiss-drenched tape warble and a layered-and-looped voice on “Sleeper” produces something that could as easily be mistaken for the work of that Brooklyn-based outfit as Dead Light—not bad company to be in, in my estimation.