Dave Luxton: Strange Environs
Wayfarer Records

Dave Luxton is a clinical psychologist (who acquired his doctoral degree from the University of Kansas in 2008), professor (at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle), and author (most recently, he co-wrote the 2016 book A Practitioner's Guide to Telemental Health). Which might lead one to wonder how it might be possible for Luxton to find the requisite time and energy to release ambient electronic music as well, yet release it he does. And not just a single time either: the classically trained multi-instrumentalist's discography lists sixteen releases, all of them issued on his own Pacific Northwest-based Wayfarer Records label.

Though the cover of the earliest of the releases, 2007's Acoustic Artifacts, shows Luxton playing acoustic guitar, he's come to be known as a crafter of atmospheric soundscapes that some refer to as Ambient Space Music. Though it's not his most recent release (that distinction falls to 2016's Phantom Circuits), Strange Environs certainly offers a satisfying account of the style in question. In fact, describing it as satisfying doesn't really capture how accomplished a recording it is, and anyone thinking Luxton doesn't bring the same degree of conviction to his music-making as he does other facets of his professional life will likely be convinced otherwise after hearing the fifty-two-minute collection.

Operating firmly within the conventions of the ambient genre, Luxton establishes the album's luscious soundworld quickly, the ominous overture “Perihelion” in this case instating it with streams of whooshing synthesizer washes and droning tones. Expansive, reverberant atmospheres clearly indicate that earth's surface is little more than a fading memory as we float serenely through space, where the radiant sparkle of stars offsets the loneliness that creeps in as the seemingly never-ending journey continues. “Behind the Clouds” effectively conveys the remoteness of space as well as its breathtaking magnitude, especially when faint whistling tones are heard emanating from the center of a vaporous mass; quietly uplifting by comparison is “Mountain Temple,” whose serene character suggests the unexpected discovery of some awe-inspiring architectural structure on a distant planet. Spacious and visually evocative, Luxton's stately material typically unfurls in slow-motion, a deliberate move on his part, one presumes, to help strengthen the impression of vastness.

Given his many professional involvements, it might be tempting to think of Luxton, musically speaking, as a hobbyist, someone who produces ambient music as an amusement and indulgence when not doing his ‘real' job. The evidence presented on Strange Environs argues otherwise, however. It's a fully realized set of deep space ambient material that the venerable doctor has clearly fashioned with considerable care.

January 2017