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Cloudland Canyon - Requiems Der Natur, 2002-2004

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Artist: Cloudland Canyon

Album: Requiems Der Natur, 2002-2004

Label: Tee Pee

Review date: Sep. 3, 2006

"Soundscape" is a dumb and usually needless word, but every now and then something like this comes along and begs for it. Requiems Der Natur is not an album about things happening, except insofar as glacier movement and prairie grass growth are actions; it's an album about places, chilly still-life nature scenes rendered out of speakers. It stretches out from cloud height to canyon depth and spends its share of time on land, and in doing so makes for something just slightly more dynamic than atmosphere (in its geological and audial senses). Why these portraits should be requiems is not entirely clear, but then after all "still life" in French is "nature morte."

So, to the equivalences: "Coastal Breathe" is a shimmering arctic snowfall, "Holy Canyon (Vanquish)" the steamy mist thrown off by a faraway geyser, "Secondary Chanting" more or less a field full of emus. Some songs, particularly the former two, busy themselves with minor motion – the first with a jittery pizzicato line and the second with a stately horn-and-drums vamp – but they don't move in any particular path. Others are less panoramic, like the aimless but relatively satisfying "Sea Chirp," or "Field Ghosts," which aspires to be an Akron/Family ditty. The lack of direction or variation here is hardly damning, because direction and variation are so beside the point. If anything is frustrating about the less explicitly scenic parts of the album, it's that the nature cues they conjure feel wholly incidental – the woods around a campfire, say, or those hills that are only nominally alive with the sound of music – which strands them between focused enchantment and what sounds more and more like shiftless splicings of pleasant sound.

That side of Requiems in turn exposes the blander truth behind it: that it's just a couple of dudes tweaking knobs and cultivating noises, or that Cloudland Canyon is just a park in northern Georgia, or that Kip Uhlhorn, who used to play in Brooklyn's neo-hedonist Panthers, just met a German instrumentalist and deemed it time for his 'process music' phase. There is an appeal to the earthy oscillations of "BrightBeijing" and the creepily mechanistic grind of "Joyful Noise," but it lies primarily in their sonic flaws, their Enoesque manipulations, their low-fidelity squeaks and hisses and murmurs of assent – and in this respect the album is less inventive or compelling than similar undertakings by, say, Growing or Belong, to say nothing of Eno himself. The flow is off; the abrupt shifts between movements feel at once reckless and judicious, because they break the persuasive lull of each track and remind you that it has to end somewhere. Each time the nature show ends, it gets harder not to think about the manufacture of the sounds that suggested it.

Cloudland Canyon's tour early in the summer (collaborating with Rob Lowe's like-minded Lichens project) made for some intriguing walls of noise, but, perhaps unsurprisingly, live performance does little to enhance the soundscapes that work intermittent magic on Requiems. Better to take them as far from authorship as possible and leave them where they're most potent: somewhere in the background, where you can forget about all human input and let the nature scenes stretch out as far as the ear can fool the eye into seeing.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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