Recorded by the ‘singing sands’ of Wonder Valley CA, instrumentalists Tommy Guerrero and Josh Lippi found isolation yet again from 21st-century life, bringing a handful of instruments along with them to see what would happen. What they got was an album that exudes a self-satisfied haze, rife with dreamy production values that waft through your speakers like a mirage, feeling half-realised and only half-really there.
Of course, singing sands weren’t the only influence on this album. Things associated with sand would be a better fit; spaghetti westerns, surf rock, a hazy walk down the beach. It's all reflective of something dry and outspoken, in the middle of nowhere with only a musical backing to keep you company.
Opening track Tierra de Sombre (Land of Shadow) is especially reflective of spaghetti western soundtracks, e.g. Ennio Morricone. The tenderly plucked minor arpeggios on the acoustic guitar and the synth strings in the background give it a dramatic aura, as if things are building up to a gunfight just over the horizon.
The mellow plodding guitar solo and erratic strums help milk the Morricone flavour even more. It’s like a Western soundtrack without the action, as if The Good, the Bad and the Ugly was just scenery without the fights; a film about sand and long horse rides through never-ending terrain. The music’s too calm and satisfied with its ambient haze to have any of the violent strikes a Sergio Leone film requires.
A lot of the time, the bass has to do most of the heavy-lifting, melodically speaking. Tracks such as The Cloak of Night and Magnetic Expanse have it searching through textures of gentle acoustics and ambient backgrounds, managing to keep buoyant and heard below the echoes and shimmers of above. The mellow sound of the bass is an interesting choice for the melody, what with it being an instrument often felt more than heard. It gives the feeling that even the main melody of a piece is only one part of the background texture, remaining evanescent and barely there to begin with.
Most of the tunes feel faint, whatever part plays them. Instruments sound muffled and partly hidden, with fragments of melody shared among a number of parts as they drift among one another – Drifting Away being a prime example of this. Possible influences include sixties exotica music, e.g. Nelson Riddle or the instrumentals on Pet Sounds, with jazzy harmonies ensuring the music stays as relaxed as possible throughout.
However, Floating Against the Night Sky is an exception, going for a more direct surf-rock attitude. Showing influences ranging from The Beach Boys to Joe Meek, it’s a typical bass-on melody instrumental, the guitar strumming in the background keeping things down-to-earth and calm. The simplistic A/B structure, along with the slight choral effects in the B-section, reminds of Telstar - keeping that homemade production aesthetic that Meek embodied. The melodies are smooth, the arrangement understated and direct; it’s a perfect example of the music it parodies – emulating it with respect.
This album is the perfect accompaniment to a lazy summer's day. It’s not music that commands your attention, but it certainly doesn’t avoid it either. Easy to get into with ambient undertones and some nice melodies along for the ride, definitely recommended if you’re stranded in the desert somewhere or you still buy into the whole surf-culture thing.