The Green Kingdom: Expanses

VA: 15 Shades of White

It can be easy to take a particular artist's work for granted when an abundance of it is available. Such a possibility applies in the case of Mike Cottone and the music he issues under The Green Kingdom moniker. Full-lengths and EPs have been released by Cottone with a near-clockwork regularity since 2006, and Expanses is now the ninth The Green Kingdom to have found its way into textura's pages.

The release contains ten untitled tracks—twelve if the digital-only bonus remixes by Tobias Hellkvist and Segue are included. That the pieces are untitled shouldn't be construed as laziness or indifference on Cottone's part; the choice was made in order to encourage the listener to develop his/her own associations in response to the material. Cottone, formally speaking a Detroit, Michigan-based graphic designer and musician, does, however, declare Expanses to be “an homage to classic ambient and ambient techno albums of the past,” though anyone coming to the release anticipating clubby techno-driven cuts will have such expectations thoroughly dashed (even if an occasional beat pattern, however muffled, does surface). Instead, Expanses aims to evoke the general feeling of such recordings without deviating too radically from the electroacoustic ambient aesthetic that's been Cottone's focus since the project's inception.

The settings are very much emblematic of The Green Kingdom in style, with acoustic and electronic sounds repeatedly melded into blurry ambient-drone masses. Texture is central to the project, and in that regard ample helpings of surface noise, hiss, and vinyl crackle have been woven into the arrangements. As far as conventional instrument sounds are concerned, keyboards (electric piano, synthesizer) and electric guitars figure prominently, while harp swirls give the disc-closing tenth piece a memorable boost. Certainly impressions of vast expanses are conjured as one attends to the material, though whether said expanses are of a more earthly or cosmological nature is left to the listener to decide. With that in mind, one might contrast the overall mood of pastoral serenity induced by the second, sixth, and eighth settings to the galaxial visions suggested by the ultra-dense third and fleeting fifth. While such pieces are quintessential The Green Kingdom, the album's key track is arguably its penultimate one, an eleven-minute-plus reverie that threads ethereal voices, twilight emissions, and other glimmering details into a soul-soothing, dub-wise flow.

Cottone also appears (in partnership with Ian Hawgood) on 15 Shades of White, an encompassing fifteen-track compilation conceived with wintry moods in mind; once again two digital-only bonus tracks are available, in this case by Hellkvist and Zvuku. Compiled by Bartosz Dziadosz (aka Pleq), the seventy-one-minute album has the feel of a convention conducted by Hibernate, Miasmah, and Home Normal artists, with names such as Talvihorros, Kreng, Aaron Martin, Christoph Berg, Jacaszek, Marsen Jules, Orla Wren, and Olan Mill among those listed in the credits. The project's winter concept is established firmly at the outset by Anne Chris Bakker's “Paths (For Robert)” and its sparse piano shadings and chilly electronic effects.

As one would expect given the contributors list, the album is characterized by some degree of diversity, even if many of the settings are classical-electronic in style and design. Pianos, acoustic guitars, violins, and cellos surface repeatedly and are oft wrapped in electronic textures (Talvihorros's “Etude V,” which smears dulcet electric piano and acoustic guitar patterns with grime, is a good example of the general style). With the winter season so strongly associated with hibernation and retreat, it doesn't surprise that many tracks are reflective and introverted in mood. Truth be told, the album's first half is stronger than its second, though the album-closing “Chiral” by the always reliable Olan Mill does re-adjust the balance somewhat. Representative of the recording are “Closing In,” a ruminative neo-classical setting by pianist Sophie Hutchings and cellist Peter Hollo, and the Pleq remix of Jacaszek's “III,” which unfolds as a windswept dreamscape for strings and female vocalizing. Hibernate aficionados in particular will find much to appreciate about the recording, especially haunted, strings-drenched blends of neo-classical and ambient-drone such as Ben Lukas Boysen's “Vega” and Aaron Martin and Christoph Berg's “Until Tomorrow Then.”

April 2014