Near The Parenthesis: Cloud.Not Mountain

With Cloud.Not Mountain, San Francisco-based electronic musician Tim Arndt continues a relationship with n5MD that began in 2006 with the release of his second album and first for the label, Of Soft Construction. L'Eixample (2008), Music for the Forest Concourse (2010), and Japanese for Beginners (2011) followed, setting the stage for his latest, the forty-seven-minute Cloud.Not Mountain. The sound and style of his Near The Parenthesis project has naturally undergone a number of changes over the course of that eight-year stretch, though melody and texture have remained focal points throughout.

The changes in the case of the new release are multiple: an increased deployment of synthesizers, broken beat patterns, and blurry textural treatments. Melody is still key but the sound design within which it appears has changed since the last album. That's especially apparent in the second piece, “Virga,” when he embeds simple electric piano figures within a dense field of shoegaze-like guitar washes, fragmented beats, and crystalline synth textures. In similar manner, the title track undergirds its chiming keyboard melodies with broken beat patterns that lurch and stumble.

The warm splendour of “Neume” is so soothing the track begins to feel like Arndt's take on Windham Hill-styled New Age. Here and elsewhere, the producer entices the listener with the promise of a retreat free of turbulence and turmoil. More dynamic by comparison is “Conductor,” which, breezy in flow, uplifting in spirit, and luscious in presentation, might be the album's strongest cut.

Admittedly there's a potential danger in emphasizing understatement and restraint to the degree that Arndt does on this new collection: like prototypical ambient material, the impact of the album's tracks is subtle, at times subliminal, and therefore easy to underappreciate. But with a little effort, the attentive listener begins to hear the artistry that Arndt brings to his bright, ethereal productions. With that in mind, one might be better to think of the ten pieces on Cloud.Not Mountain as moodscapes rather than instrumental songs.

November 2014