Listening Mirror: Resting in Aspic

The ambient-drone field has become so crowded of late, artists associated with the genre now more than ever before must devise ways by which to distinguish themselves from their brethren. Certainly all of the usual signifiers are present on Listening Mirror's seventy-minute Resting in Aspic: reverb-drenched haze, multi-layered construction, dream-like loops, heavily processed materials, willowy atmospheres, and subtle integrations of field recordings (nature sounds of birds and water). But Jeff Stonehouse and Kate Tustain often give their material a distinctive character by adding piano and vocals to a mix generated from source materials that include acoustic guitar, percussive instruments, and BC8 synth.

Awash in haze and reverb glow, “Outside Heaven” and the mystery-laden “Falling Under” present dense, wavering streams of processed sound punctuated by improvised piano meander and insectoid electronic chatter. Birds and water sounds are even more prominently featured in “The Leechpool,” such that the glimmering musical sounds act like a soundtrack to the burble and chirps that appear throughout the track's nine-minute run. It's Tustain's ethereal vocal that amplifies the appeal of “The Organist,” a fourteen-minute exercise in ambient-trance that features her voice swooping repeatedly over a churning ambient mass. The duo has no difficulty cultivating atmosphere, as “Venice Boxhead” illustrates so clearly in its shadowy blend of moody piano meander, cawing crows, and crystalline electronic shadings. There is room for criticism, however: “Without Saying Goodbye” is classic ambient-drone material and, as credible as it is, could be the product of any number of genre practitioners. Such pieces would have benefited more from the piano and vocal sounds that elsewhere identify a track as Listening Mirror.

As a full-length recording, Resting in Aspic came together serendipitously, as much of the album features tracks culled from a number of previously released EPs and limited-edition releases issued on Rural Colours, Heat Death, Audio Gourmet, Arew, and Hibernate's postcard series. That the recording has the unified sound that it does is attributable to the clearly formed musical conception Stonehouse and Tustain agreed upon when they inaugurated the Listening Mirror project in 2010. What they might be wise to do henceforth is accentuate to an even greater degree the elements that give their material its distinguishing and emotive character. As an ideal illustration, the album ends memorably with “Wet Roads,” a lovely melancholy setting that positions Tustain's celestial vocals front and center.

April 2012