Crown jewels from
Palace of Lights
by Darren Bergstein
Fripp and Eno, unbeknownst to them, were the precursors to the new age, hip to space being the place, laying out ideals since corrupted by the vagaries of an industry hideously misinformed and administratively clueless. Leimer’s heroes, their thumbprint is all but unmistakable on his debut Closed System Potentials. Had the planets indeed aligned, the Potentials might have been devastating instead of anecdotal; new age would have had legitimate caché, its genre fundamentalism raised on intelligent artistry rather than simplistic banality. Ergo, the fragile yet innate beauty of this recording still resonates after so many years. The spirit of F&E figure prominently on “The Random in Nature”, Fripp’s signature style a ghost-hum recalled in (moog) memory, reverberating in a fogbank of decay. “Derivative” recalls the pastel haiku of Mark Isham’s Vapor Drawings, Leimer’s synth a solitary figure lost in a piano motif rife with longing. The ivories are tickled further on the snapshot “Stationary Image”, misty electronics frozen in shimmering tableau. Extending the ideas of Mssrs. Fripp, Eno, Cluster, et al, Leimer’s initial opus is a minor classic, contemplative minimalism devoid of any treacly leftover, tended with a deft touch and obvious elegance.
Erected on a foundation of field recordings made in Jamaica for the film of the same name, Land of Look Behind catches Leimer wide-eyed in the jungle, a milieu he ingeniously reconfigures under the aesthetics of ‘minimalism’ yet devoid of the bogus imperialist strategizing that would eventually buttress much so-called world music. In fact, playing this blind, you wouldn’t be remiss in wondering if you’d come across an obscure Steve Tibbetts record – the opening “Two Voices” might have been lifted straight off the guitarist’s Big Map Idea, sharing a commonality of drumkit poise and similar tonal centers. However, segue into “Confusion in Belief” and there’s plenty of corporeal life rustling about this bush of ghosts, as Leimer washes the canvas in broad synthetic strokes and Kevin Hodges strips in mock-gamelan percussives every bit as engaging as the Eno-samples dotting Hassell’s Fourth World, Vol. 1. As a work independent of its cinematic blueprint, Land of Look Behind passes the muster, and despite its ‘quaint’ production values, has worn quite well during the intervening years, even if, in retrospect, this is a chronological oddity wholly indicative of time and place.
The foibles of history understood, Leimer’s obsession with the cadence of talking heads was hardly sated. The Neo-Realist (At Risk) is Leimer’s indulging of his (neo) rockist tendencies, the touchstone here being Byrne & co.’s seminal Remain in Light. Herewith, Leimer’s hip-deep in band collaboration (the recording was originally credited to Savant), trading with fellow Palace guests Marc Barreca, Kevin Hodges, and versatile guitarist Dennis Rea (late of Earthstar, then with Jeff Greinke via their collective Land). Neo-Realist, no doubt mined a style again quite illustrative of its time of origin (1982) – trouble is, it’s too much a product of its time, extremely well-played and, at intervals, quite fetching (“Shadow in Deceit” is a nocturnal sojourn through African percussion dynamics and cascading synth waterfalls), but it has difficulty losing its Head(s) in the execution. A noble failure, though quite appealing as a genre exercise.
Tribal drumming continues to inform a good deal of 1983’s Imposed Order, as Leimer has mastered his Oberheim splendidly and delved even further into using analog tape recorders for a variety of coruscating effects. The looped ganglia and deep-space electronics of “The Human Condition” are rendered far more effective as Leimer counterclocks his rhythms, starts/stops them – imposes chaos, ironically, instead of order. “Shallows” reincarnates the fourth-world Hassellisms in a saturnine thicket of glurp and liquid chatter; then the brilliant “Three Forms of Decay” rises like steam above the rainforest, subtle shades of electronics dematerializing in the heathaze. Stylistically, Imposed Order is possibly Leimer’s most potent realization of his many-sonicked tropes, bypassing categorization in its evocation of landscape and mood.
As pure, unadulterated ambient music, Leimer’s new disc, The Listening Room, acquits itself admirably, a plaintive, resonant balance of questing tones and beauteous drones that is a cousin in many respects to Steve Roach’s Quiet Music. Both recordings drink deep of spartan, contemplative moods, and both successfully invoke remembrance, yearning, reflection and melancholy – warm, lovely, the sensibilities on display here resolve themselves in a studied, even ‘classical’ manner. Then on Brittle Soft, his other 2002 outing, Leimer mixes his metaphors with guitarist Tyler Boley, whose echoes of Richard Pinhas burnishes the icy-smooth surfaces with a markedly chrome sheen. It appears Leimer’s migrating from formerly translucent territory; this is ambient with teeth.
© Darren Bergstein