Wednesday 30 January 2013

Oh/Ex/Oh - Extant

Album review by

You'd be forgiven for thinking that, after putting the needle on the vinyl or pressing play on the CD/iPod/preferred listening method, that you'd been given a blank record with this one. There are several seconds of silence that begin opening track 'Crepuscule', before the faint outline of a mirage of a song begins to appear. There's no sign here of the overloaded compression that's blighted popular music for the past couple of decades (Oasis' '...Morning Glory' album is often cited as an example of using studio techniques to make music louder, digital file formats have only increased this), it feels natural and very very subtle. People with an aversion to ambient music should probably look away now.

Much of Oh/Ex/Oh's music on this album follows a similar pattern; these are delicate, drawn-out pieces, designed to give hypnotic qualities as opposed to being radio-friendly unit-shifters. If you were to take The Orb's classic 'Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld' album and slow it down, massage it until it's relaxed and slip a Valium into its drink it may end up sounding a little like 'Extant'. To some folk these waves of mild noise will seem almost devoid of any value, to others this will be meditative bliss. There's also an unusual dreamlike quality to be found, something we say about a lot of records, but this is done in a different way. When you get the shock of a booming voice talking to you at the end of 'The Holy Fallout' it really is like one of those scenes in a film where the clouds part and God delivers his words.

The lack of variation can be a bit off-putting at some points; 'STS-115' for example, goes nowhere and does nothing, but as long as you know what to expect you can reap the rewards of this album. It will have a niche audience for sure but will be cherished by those lucky few to whom these sounds resonate the most. 'The Last Days' is as blissfully peaceful as music can be and you can get lost in its constant haze. If you really can't stomach the thought of an album as chilled as this, try the excellent slowed-down krautrock of 'Close Encounters', possibly the album's best entry point for ambient newcomers, or maybe 'The Resonator' where we're treated to some futuristic spoken-word lyrics. 'Extant' shouldn't really be thought of as a wishy-washy set of soundscapes, the general feeling is that of a drone-rock supernova, a cosmic place where these atmospheric sounds go for one final burst of light before they burn out completely.

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