Off Land: Afterglow
Without wishing to cast any aspersions on ambient as a genre, labeling Afterglow ambient does a disservice to the recording when its scope extends so far beyond the genre. Issued on the Boulder, Colorado label Carpe Sonum Records, the ten-track collection is the latest Off Land release from Tim Dwyer, who founded the project in 2004 and has been refining it ever since. The material, which the New England musician created between 2013 and 2015, is designed to mirror in sonic form the way “light moves through this universe and interacts with the cosmos.” Such a theme, while obviously grandiose, is effectively realized in sound form by this extremely capable producer. Synthetic elements, acoustic sounds, and field recordings are the elements with which Dwyer works in these texturally rich settings.
At the album's outset, “Zodiacal Light” sets the bar dauntingly high for the tracks that follow. An encompassing, eleven-minute scene-painting rich in synthetic detail and colour, the setting alternates between meditative passages and animated sequences in a way that suggests the mesmerized responses a traveler might experience during a particularly mind-expanding voyage through the cosmos; a rather darker plunge is intimated by “Photosphere,” which throbs at a time-suspending tempo for ten minutes near the end of the recording. During “Gegenschein,” the influence of Javanese gamelan on Dwyer's music is clearly audible in the presence of bell-like percussion and the music's hypnotic, lilting flow; at such a moment, the distance separating Afterglow from a kindred recording such as Mark Isham's Tibet, an excellent early Windham Hill release by the trumpeter, seems small indeed.
As mentioned, while Afterglow, or at least parts of it, could be labeled ambient, the term seems inadequate when Dwyer's electro-acoustic music engages the attention so fully; even restrained settings such as “Subtypes” and “Redshift” include so many layers of sultry detail, they register as anything but wallpaper music. They're also often more robust and dramatic than the ambient norm, a case in point “Pulsar,” which seems to spread its insistent signals across the skies; so rhythmically insistent is the track, for that matter, that it begins to verge on IDM more than anything else. No matter the label affixed to it, Afterglow provides a deeply immersive and satisfying listening experience.