Markus Mehr – In
Record Label: Hidden Shoal Recordings
Release Date: January 26, 2012
Generally, impatient people must have a very difficult time getting ambient music; this much I know because I happen to be a very impatient person. The best ambient artists are capable of grabbing their listeners powerfully, wielding stunning climaxes and quietly moving melodies, often stuck at odds against each other. Too often, though, I slowly ease myself into position, preparing for a revelation, only to wake up from a deep slumber forty minutes later, everything having passed me by while I’m still stuck on the outside wondering what’s behind those impenetrable walls.
There are some walls I will never scale, but maybe Markus Mehr’s latest work, In, might be a good place to begin. It’s an undeniable beast of an album, and it’s not exactly easily digestible, yet there’s a wonderfully lucid quality to the ambience here that makes the experience compelling—and even a little enlightening.
The first half is “Komo”, a twenty-six minute behemoth that doesn’t show many signs of life until around halfway through. The first character we’re introduced to is an ominous rumble, starting off distant before closing in on us. Soon enough, a mournful string motif seeps in slowly before slowly swelling up. It’s a solemn beginning, majestic in an almost frigid way. Mehr has a steady hand as he defrosts the ice around the core of the track as it melts into warmer shades, other voices waking from their hibernation and calling out to each other. The progression never feels as tightly constructed as it really is, though; the way the layers of the track burrow in and out of each other feels so organic that even when it shifts into a more malevolent gear and machinery takes over, the development isn’t at all jarring but eye-opening.
“Ostinato” is just as gigantic as its other half, at twenty-three minutes, but it’s a completely different piece of work altogether. In contrast to the thawing glacial beauty of “Komo”, this piece is layered with ominous synths and buzzing static. A lone guitar and a gloomy, dissonant trumpet fanfare can be heard faintly from behind the layers of smoke and ash they’re wrapped in. There’s a distinct vibe that we may be witnessing the aftermath of the ruins explored at the end of the first movement, as if these few instruments are all that remain of the fallout. As the track nears its finish, the war signals begin cutting in desperately, calling out to empty streets, looking for any fellow refugees it can find. The trumpet wails back in equal proportions of sorrow. We’re never told if anybody ever made it out of the destruction alive.
In isn’t quite beautiful, and it isn’t exactly pure. What it is, however, is refreshingly, unflinchingly honest about what it’s trying to say. And for that reason alone, I’d have to say it may be worth hearing Mehr out.
Random plug: If any of you guys are interested in getting recommendations to awesome free indie music, come swing by wasfuersohr.blogspot.com! We cover a legion of different genres and artists, so no matter what your tastes, I hope you’ll find something you like.