subtractiveLAD: Life at the End of the World

So what's life like at the end of the world for Stephen Hummel? On the evidence of his sixth subtractiveLAD album, it's apparently no cataclysmic melt-down but rather an oasis of celestial calm. Though Hummel cites the guitar as his main instrument, the album's lush material often sounds more keyboard-heavy, or maybe it's simply that the guitar's natural sounds are camouflaged, transmuted into immense washes and cloud formations by Hummel using various effects and devices. Don't get the wrong idea: guitar textures and patterns are present but they're merely part of the total sonic mix. Regardless, the hour-long collection of beatless meditative material is often beautiful and that it's easy on the ears isn't an unwelcome thing.

While Eno would be an obvious reference, a track such as “Summer In Your Mouth,” with its rapturous swell of stately piano melodies and hazy tones positions the album squarely in Eluvium territory. No doubt Matthew Cooper also would be glad to claim the gloriously hymnal and supplicating qualities of “The Deep and Lovely Quiet” as his own. The blend of ambient washes and crystalline guitar shadings in “Ne Plus Ultra,” on the other hand, draws a connecting line between subtractiveLAD's Life At The End Of The World and Robin Guthrie's recent instrumental outings. But lest anyone get too comfortable basking in the ambient glow of “Beginning Again” and the seven stately minutes of grandiose synthesizer counterpoint that makes up “With Eternal Lids Apart,” be aware that Hummel hasn't entirely foregone his penchant for guitar dramatics: five-and-a-half minutes into “Once The Stars Have Been Washed From The Sky,” Hummel straps on his axe to spread molten chords over the track's synthetic material, pretty much burying them in the process. The guitar sounds bleed on into “Life At The End Of The World” (in fact extend from start to finish) before morphing into delicate picking for the ten-minute exuent “Always Ending.” The fuller embrace of a more ambient style won't come as a total surprise to long-time subtractiveLAD devotees, given that the bonus disc in his 2009 Where the Land Meets the Sky set presented three long-form ambient works, making it a natural segue-way to the new release.

March 2010