Aarktica, “…or you could just go through your whole life and be happy anyway.”

Artist: Aarktica
Title: ...or you could just go through your whole life and be happy anyway.
Release Date: 2014

Aarktica, …or you could go through your whole life and be happy anyway. Bliss Out v.18, released 2002 by Darla Records

1) aura lee
2) you’re landlocked, my love
3) happy anyway
4) a correspondence in film
5) nostalgia = distortion
6) the hook, the reel, and the pull
7) song for a free williamsburg

One of the challenges of being an artist is to grow and develop while still holding on to what’s worthwhile in your art. To remain relevant, an artist has to try new things and find fresh ways of looking at both the world and themselves. The problem is that even though rehashing is a guarantee of artistic failure, constantly trying to explore and expand beyond what you already are and know is by no means a guarantee of success.

The field of artistic possibilities is infinite, and we have to navigate it blind. We have no choice but to grow, to find our way by trial and error, but the path is narrow and every step is a potential misstep.

On …or you could…, Aarktica expands upon his explorations in morning one, and introduces drums and vocals into a full-length CD while still trying to create (mostly) a gentle, warm bath of sound. The results are promising, but mixed.

The album opens with a signal that things will be a bit different, opening with nothing but a light, steady tapping on a cymbal which persists throughout the song aura lee, soon joined by low guitars and de Rosa’s singing…but the song really opens up when he’s suddenly joined by a female vocalist, one of my favorite moments on the album. It’s a beautiful song, and with much more of a sense of growth and climax than anything from no solace in sleep or morning one.

However, things drop off a cliff with “you’re landlocked, my love”. It features only drum kit and his singing, and it’s just terrible. His singing works well in the lush textures he usually builds, but without accompaniment, his wandering sense of pitch becomes really grating, as does the electronic manipulation of his voice…and the beats he puts together just don’t work. It’s an exercise in making the most out of drums, voice, and electronic manipulation rather than a real piece of music. Not much, apparently, can be made.

“happy anyway” doesn’t help matters much, with just some sparse drones and small figures on intentionally detuned guitars. I detest most microtonal music[1], and this is no different. But even if the guitars were properly tuned, “happy anyway” would be, at best, quite boring.

Thankfully, things get better with “a correspondence in film”, a welcome throwback to the sleepy guitar ambience from no solace in sleep; but, like aura lee, with more of a sense of development. Though the guitar which forms the focal point is, again, slightly detuned, it sounds poignant rather than grating.

“nostalgia = distortion”, like “aura lee”, begins with a statement, opening with a slow backbeat that provides the foundation of the song, which is again filled out with intertwining guitar lines. de Rosa sings a simple melody over it, and it’s a nice track.

The title of “the hook, the reel, and the pull”[2] is taken from lyrics in the previous song; the track also draws from “nostalgia = distortion” in its musical material, recycling some motives and figures in a much more dreamy setting.

…or you could… closes with “song for a free williamsburg”, a track that seems to draw a great deal from proto-Goth[3] in both texture and vocal treatment, as it opens sparsely – electronic noises over a drum machine beat and a low sung melody – and grows into a complex satisfying final track.

…or you could… is a good album, despite tracks 2 and 3, and it’s heartening to see him try to do more than create relaxing, lovely ambience, which he already proved he could do very well indeed on his debut CD. He introduces new elements to his musical sensibilities: not just introducing instruments – drum kit and voice – but also trying to create structures that have a real sense of growth and momentum, of arrival. For the most part he makes them work within his aesthetic, even as they change it. While he still fundamentally builds his songs the same way, by the gradual introduction of more and more layers, it’s an effective method (that particularly appeals to my own sensibilities as listener and composer) with a lot of possibilities to be mined.

1. Microtonal music makes me feel…uh…”mentally queasy” is the best way I can phrase it.

2. Three cheers for the Oxford comma!

3. I’m sure one of Jon de Rosa’s influences is New Order – in particular, the track “elegia” from Low-life – who was once Joy Division…so there’s some kind of causal chain, I think. Aarktica’s musical connection to the late ’70s post-punk and proto-Goth movements will come up when I briefly discuss his latest album, bleeding light.

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