Taking cues from doom metal, smoky ECM avant-jazz plates, dreampop and disorienting GRM classics, Jake Muir and LA psych-sludge mainstay Evan Caminiti join hands on “Talisman”, a blacklight-doused set of grim, beatless shimmers that push back on contemporary ambient logic. RIYL Terje Rydpal, Earth, Cocteau Twins or Les Disques Du Crépuscule.
Muir and Caminiti are sick and tired of ambient music’s bizarre entanglement with the wellness industrial complex. You know what we’re on about here: healing sounds and soothing balms for well-heeled adult babies to jam on Instagram, supported by their aesthetic collection of verdant succulants (modular synth not essential, but preferred). And yeh we fully realize that the world’s going to shit, but we’re also pretty sure that a guided meditation isn’t gonna lead us to salvation, especially when it’s accompanied by music that’s at best a poor approximation of private press biz that came out four decades ago. Growing up in California, Muir and Caminiti quickly developed a deep suspicion of this kinda snake oil peddling and on “Talisman” fabricate a charm to ward off fakers – a subtly fanged ambient-not-ambient dedication to desert doom, mountain jazz and lysergic experimental forms.
The duo split the labor cleanly: seasoned improviser Caminiti handles electric guitar, and Muir works as a sonic alchemist, grinding Caminiti’s takes into dust and subliming each note into a thick, vaporous haze. Anyone who’s heard either artist’s work before will have an idea of where to start, and there are traces of Caminiti’s blasted earth recordings as part of Barn Owl, as well as his cinematic solo productions; Muir meanwhile picks up where last year’s Ilian Tape-released “Mana” left off, orchestrating a mood that’s bleak but not suffocating, and dark but not without cracks of light. The most obvious stylistic comparisons are to Seattle doom metal originators Earth – particularly 2005’s country-fried “Hex” – and Norwegian maestro Terje Rydpal, who drove prog, jazz and psychedelic music into new territory in the 1970s and 1980s. Caminiti takes these touchstones and exposes them to the harsh Los Angeles sunlight, further drying out Earth’s Pacific Northwestern blues and adding some neon flicker to Rydpal’s icy, mountainous naturalism. He also admits he was soaking up pedal steel music at the time, and you can hear the trace of artists like Chas Smith, Daniel Lanois and BJ Cole in his recumbent riffs.
A trained sound engineer who’s spent the last few years refining his skills in Berlin, Muir looks to the GRM school for his direction, and employs subtle electronic processes, occasionally augmenting them with his own field recordings. This isn’t just arbitrary birdsong to blithely suggest the natural world over billowing major chords, but evocative audio snapshots of the burning Californian landscape. It’s these small touches that ground “Talisman” and provide it with a brawny narrative backdrop – the duo have created a record that’s devotional and melodic, but one that never resorts to cheap tricks or well-worn manipulation. They’ve instead landed on a sound that’s antagonistic but not annoyingly confrontational (we see you power ambient) or exhaustingly conceptual.
Diving into one track or another is almost pointless, Muir and Caminiti assembled “Talisman” to be played in a single sitting – it’s a mood piece that’s unwrenchable from its essential whole. Listening is a chance to escape into another universe for a while, one that takes rough and rugged elements (Muir and Caminiti bonded over their love of contemporary death metal bands like Spectral Voice and Blood Incantation) and refines them into lavish sigils that suggest the confusing unpredictability of our era. Anti-ambient? Maybe.