Ex Confusion: With Love

Melorman: Waves
Sun Sea Sky Productions

Proving once again that finely crafted ambient music never goes out of style are the latest releases by electronic artists Ex Confusion (Atsuhito Omori) and Melorman (Antonis Haniotakis). With Love, Omori's third Ex Confusion collection, is a quietly beautiful, forty-four-minute set of electroacoustic ambient splendour that builds on the strengths of his 2012 album Embrace, while Haniotakis's Waves presents another strong argument for his personalized brand of melodic electronica.

Much of the new Ex Confusion album exudes a bittersweet and sometimes heartbreaking quality, as if the title more reflects a nostalgic remembrance of past love than an affectionate address to a current one (its inner sleeve dedication reads: "This is for my father. You are always with us wherever you are..."). A typical Ex Confusion piece uses guitar or piano as a foundation, which Omori then elaborates upon by dramatically processing and layering the sound elements until what results is a hazy, slow-motion reverie that feels like the re-emergence of a long-forgotten memory. The gentle, melancholic drift of blurry synths in “What It Means to Me” and “For Memories” exemplifies the way that the self-taught musician uses abstract musical content to evoke deeply focused inner states.

Using little more than acoustic guitars, Omori produces two heartbreaking minutes in “Two Things” and pushes the album's emotional world to a mournful extreme in “Only an Angel.” Elsewhere there are shimmering electric guitar shadings (“On Your Side,” “Letters That You Keep”) and reverb-drenched piano meditations (“With Love,” “As We Are”). The album's thirteen pieces aren't conventionally melodic; instead, the music's impact comes about more through the mood that results from the accumulation of texture and overlapping phrases, and lest anyone overlook the nostalgic theme, Omori gives his tracks titles like “Old Portrait” and “Letters That You Keep.”

We've previously enjoyed the melodic ambient-IDM Athens, Greece-born Antonis Haniotakis issues under the name Melorman. His 2009 Symbolic Interaction release Out In A Field and 2011 Sun Sea Sky set After Noon were both warmly received in these pages following their release, and his latest, Waves (also for the Charleston, Illinois-based Sun Sea Sky imprint) is as pleasurable a listen. Harmony and emotion are key to the Melorman sound, as Haniotakis commits all his energy to crafting four- to five-minute settings whose sparkling surfaces soothe and entrance.

There's a gently uplifting quality to the Melorman sound, despite the strong feelings of melancholy and nostalgia that infuse the material. Hazy synth washes and melodies glide gracefully through the album's nine polished pieces, most of them buoyed by programmed beats that give the songs propulsion and heft without compromising their generally serenading character. Listening to the album, it's clear that Haniotakis possesses all of the requisite production and arranging skills needed to bring his compositions to life and have them exert the strong emotional impact they do. With their crunchy, hip-hop-inflected beat patterns and radiant sound design, “Lights” and “Numbers” exemplify the classic melodic ambient-IDM style in satisfying manner, while wordless harmonies (vocal samples credited to Helen) add an additional human touch to “Girls in the 70's,” perhaps the punchiest cut due to its comparatively aggressive attack. Waves won't spark a revolution or topple corrupt regimes, but it does offer the possibility of forty-four minutes of wistful entrancement for those in need of spiritual replenishment.

August-September 2013