Pan•American: Quiet City

Quiet City, the fourth Pan•American album from Labradford member Mark Nelson, perpetuates the electronic approach adopted on The River Made No Sound but now marries it to acoustic sounds of drums, bass, and trumpet. The mood throughout is meditative and sombre, the pace slow and stately. Not surprisingly, Nelson transplants certain Labradford trademarks like funereal tempos, hushed vocals, and reverberant guitar lines into the Pan•American context. He typically applies electronic treatments subtly, often bathing the cleanly voiced guitar in dense ambient layers. On the longest track, “Smallholding,” however, electronics move to the forefront when its organ drone is showered with swirling crackle, muffled percussion accents, and hissing emissions until the track vanishes inside an ambient cloud.

Nelson wisely modifies the general approach by adding musicians to three tracks. Acoustic bass and drums enhance “Inside Elevation” but they're largely subtle support for the acoustic guitar and what sounds like an accordion or melodica. The track's mysterious, European feel echoes within the melancholy “Retouch.” David Max Crawford's the star here as his affecting flugelhorn cries (reminiscent of Tomasz Stanko) stand out from Nelson's interweaving keyboard patterns and Steven Hess's subtle tom-toms. One piece in particular sounds like a full-fledged band performance. On “Hall and Skylight,” Tim Mulvenna's inventive drumming imparts urgency to the track but, for all its propulsiveness, his playing initially dominates Nelson's gentle acoustic guitar a bit too much. The piece is further distinguished by David Max Crawford's lovely trumpet playing, nicely doubled by Charles Kim's bass. The album peak, though, is the gorgeous closer “Christo en Pilsen,” a slow, lullaby waltz of acoustic guitar and reverberant electric guitar lines that ends Quiet City in lovely manner. Overall, the album is certainly good enough but tracks like this one help elevate it to a much higher level.

June 2004