Wind and Wire - Bill Binkelman
Friendly and warm but also forlorn and mysterious, the music on Edge of the Univ
This is the second release (from a chronological standpoint, although, thematically, it's actually the storyline's starting point) of a planned trilogy of SF-themed recordings from EM/ambient artist William Edge. The main plot is about the discovery of the border of the known universe and a voyage to see what lies there.
Edge of the Universe: Discovery is an improvement from the previously released, Journey to the Edge: 76 Light Years. The overall sound and compositions are more sophisticated, and Edge has avoided some of the failings of the earlier CD, notably his previous tendency to have his percussion out of sync (intentionally, I imagine, since it's so noticable) with the melodic aspects of a song. In addition, the music itself is moodier, more evocative, and proved to be much more satisfying and thematic in nature.
There are several distinct "types" of musical styles that the artist explores throughout these fourteen tracks, including: retro electronic music with overt spacy and cosmic textures and analog-sounding keyboards, a quasi-space jazz tone-poem/improvisational approach using a keyboard that combines the sound of a Fender Rhodes electric piano with an echoed bell-like quality, and sparse minimal tones and synth washes that mix contemporary space and ambient music with a more classic approach to the genres. In addition, Edge peppers some tracks with programmed percussion, usually some sort of hand drums or wood sticks.
I particularly like the songs on which Edge uses that cosmic-lounge music vibe comprised of those inviting yet haunting bell tones/electric piano, heavily echoed to impart a sense of the broad expanse of deep space. The evocative nature of these pieces (especially "Solar Wind," which is a standout on the CD) is arresting, imparting an almost palpable sense of what it may feel like to cruise through the backwaters of the galaxy, far away from loved ones, on a lonely trip into the unknown. Strangely, Edge's music is seldom dark as one would normally define the term. It's his application of echo, sustain, and reverb, combined with his relative minimalism (sparse notes and delicate use of synth textures and strings) that gives the music its overall feeling of desolation at times.
Besides the music, there is also some scanty science fiction-oriented narration of the album's "story" (most notably on "Discovery"). Somehow, he avoids this sounding gimmicky or cheesy (the words are spoken by his wife and like the music the dialogue is heavily echoed).
With so many cuts on this album, I'll just spotlight a few to give you an idea what's to be found here. "Reflected Light" opens the recording with lots of assorted retro EM synthesizer effects, all of them spacy and cosmic in nature, layered over rising and falling washes. "Spectrum" introduces some of the main musical "themes" of the CD, with pulsing hand drums and wooden sticks, delicate "plucked" keyboard notes, and ethereal synth washes. "Discovery" features the narration that lays out the story line amidst forlorn echoed bell tones, those cool Fender Rhodes-like keys, and undercurrents of spacy textures. "Memories of Water" introduces a variety of water "sound effects" (water droplets into a pool, rain, thunder, waves) against a backdrop of retro synths, undulating washes, lush synth strings, and plaintive digital piano. "Solar Wind" has a midtempo series of percussion elements (hand drum, wood sticks) and the most atmospheric synth work, featuring a somber refrain of a particular series of notes played on that cool-sounding reverberating bell tone keyboard. Wind, assorted soft drones and washes, and other cosmic textures come into play at times, but the song is mostly minimal. "Energy Form 1," unfortunately, brings the non-syncopated percussion (tom toms) into play, played against an assortment of "energy" electronic effects. It's one of the few misses here, partly owing to a lack of musicality on the song. "Infinite Horizon" swings things back in the right direction with a blend of classic spacemusic strings and retro synths - the strings, in particular, are used to good effect at the track's conclusion. The second to last song, "Gate to Inifinty" is another winner, very spacy and in keeping with the cut's intended "storyline," blending the jazzier electric piano-like keyboards with floating chords, synth strings, and plucked notes. "Epilogue" closes out the CD as a short coda, featuring a distorted outerspace transmission, a reprisal of the earlier musical theme from "Discovery," and a restating some of that song's narration.
Edge of the Universe: Discovery is not a perfect album. It probably could have one or two cuts excised to no apparent detriment (in fact, a leaner album is preferable as far as I'm concerned) and those non-syncopated drums tend to get on my nerves (although thankfully, their appearance here, compared to Edge's first recording, are considerably reduced). In the recording's favor is the artist's unusual and creative amalgamation of retro EM, spacemusic, and those melodic quasi-jazzy improvisational digital piano/bell tone keyboards. When this CD hits, it hits big. I had a great time listening to this on late night walks in the dark. Friendly and warm but also forlorn and mysterious, the music on Edge of the Universe: Discovery may just be the ideal soundtrack for a trip beyond the rim of our galaxy - or even further. Recommended.