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Mirror - Still Valley

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Artist: Mirror

Album: Still Valley

Label: Die Stadt

Review date: Jan. 22, 2006

Using sound to represent a landscape has long been an extremely pervasive methodology in both experimental and new age music. Everything from the organic repetition and decay of nature to the claustrophobic abrasiveness of the city are frequently explored in depth, pitting the seemingly permanent, concrete aspects of our environment against the innately temporal and illusory functions of sound. While you can listen to a piece of recorded music an endless number of times, it is always incapable of infinity, the envisioned "landscape" always fades away, often only lasting 20 minutes.

Mirror's new album, Still Valley, continues in their imagistic approach to music; past environs have included a mirror factory nestled far in a resonant swamp, a "sleepy coastal town" (to quote Aquarius Records) present on Eye of the Storm, and the slow murky descent on the self-explanatory Viking Burial for a Dead French Car. But Still Valley takes this painterly approach further, opting to take the idea of an ambient and shifting landscape and completely halt it. Still Valley is a photograph of paralyzed landscape, rather than a direct representation.

The package artwork, always an important factor in Mirror's music, is a green sleeve with a cut-out silhouette of a cat, revealing an inner sleeve with a full-sized photograph. Depending on which side of the sleeve is faced outward, a different image is framed. One photo is a close-up of a church bell tower and the other is possibly the same bell tower from farther away, among other houses in the valley. Of course, whether or not it is the identical tower becomes obscured, a reminder of the great difference between the sound of a bell from up close or from far away. The close-up picture has caught a blur of a bird in mid-flight, underlying the frozen approach of the music. While Mirror is austere to begin with, Still Valley is an increased reduction, determined to reach a goal of making time stand still.

The palette of sounds is slightly brasher than on some past releases. There isn't an overwhelming sheath of reverb or any apparent field recordings to create spatial illusion. Rather, there is the overtone drift of Andrew Chalk's guitar, gliding harmonic drones, and the most active aspect: slow oscillator glissandos, rising and falling from the bottom to the top of the audio spectrum. These glissandos are essentially the main movement of the three pieces here, giving a sense that the landscape is being surveyed and scanned.

Unfortunately and perhaps intentionally, the music here doesn't seem to transcend the group dynamic as it does on many other Mirror albums. The sounds are more familiar and feel safer than they have been in the past. Where many of their prior releases contain quite a bit of mystery and displacement, Still Valley is somewhat fittingly stagnant, never quite reaching hallucinatory extremes, never quite seeming truly immersive, and ultimately coming across as more notable for its concept rather than its execution.

By Matt Wellins

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