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Oren Ambarchi - Intermission 2000-2008

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Artist: Oren Ambarchi

Album: Intermission 2000-2008

Label: Touch

Review date: Dec. 1, 2009

It never fails; the week after you compile your year-end lists, a record turns up that should have been on one. Intermission 2000-2008 certainly deserves more notice than it’s likely to receive given that is is a semi-archival collection with a November release date because even though it is, as the title suggests, a collection of pauses, its five tracks cohere as a weighty statement of just what Ambarchi is about.

The Australian guitarist/percussionist has one of those discographies that is challenging to track. Higher-profile solo releases, mostly on the Touch label, alternate with limited edition efforts, some vinyl-only, some revised from iteration to iteration. Ambarchi is also an inveterate collaborator who is even harder to pin down in communal mode; heard back to back in a blindfold test, not many newcomers would be likely to locate the same musician’s presence on records by Sunn O))), Sun, the Menstruation Sisters, Four Gentlemen Of The Guitar, and Lasse Marhaug. But you ignore these permutations at your peril, since Ambarchi’s on-the-side activities often match or exceed his top of the line solo releases. You might easily have missed Intermission’s contents since they come from the lower-profile side of his work.

First comes “Intimidator,” which vinyl partisans may recognize as the fourth-side bonus track from the Southern Lord version of In The Pendulum’s Embrace. There it maintained an ambivalent relationship with the rest the record’s material, since the metallic (but not at all Metal) sonorities of guest Antony Pateras’s prepared piano kept it from mixing easily with the original Touch CD’s music. But despite the afterthought status apparently conferred by virtue of being the added-on track for a boutique format, it summed up Pendulum’s main point, which is also one driven home by Intermission; that the physical presence of sound, more than any given instrument or tone, is Ambarchi’s real material. You don’t just hear the strike of hammer on strings, it seems to lightly brush your collarbone; wavering sine waves seem to dance between your ears; bass notes weigh upon you like the water at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. The pressure of each sound is enormous, and yet as soothing as a Zen garden.

The previously unreleased “Iron Waves” is an anomaly in Ambarchi’s catalog. It’s a remix of “Parasail,” a tune from Texan singer-songwriter Paul Duncan’s Above The Seas CD. But despite the presence of Duncan’s dolorous voice delivering comprehensible lyrics, generally a rarity for Ambarchi (even when he sings with Sun, the vocals are so diffident and negligible that it’s hard to remember them), it’s a natural extension of “Intimidator.” Whining e-bowed guitars and tolling cymbals roll out of the speakers, and if they don’t have the time to press you as strongly as the previous track’s tones they still enshroud you like a weighty jacket. “Moving Violation” previously appeared on Touch 25, a compilation celebrating a significant label birthday. The sounds Ambarchi wields here recall those on Suspension, plump, rounded tones that sound more like the work of an electric piano filtered through the digital effects favored by Clicks & Cuts perpetrators than a guitar. But he coats them in a fine patina of sonic grit, then blows it loose at the end with a rising electronic buzz; once more, the music climaxes with an exertion of pressure. The oldest track here, “The Strouhal Number,” is a live recording from 2000 that previously appeared on a Preservation compilation called Live & Direct. Once more the faux-piano notes fall like a slow-motion rain that gently splashes between the thuds of Ambarchi’s thunderous bass reports. The mastering job on this CD does a fantastic job of rendering Ambarchi’s intended impact and decisively refutes haters who think a compact disc can never match vinyl’s physical sensations.

The album ends with “A Final Kiss On Poison Cheeks,” which aside from some overdubbed bells and cymbals is another live track. Previously issued as a one-sided picture disc by Table Of The Elements, this is where the bathyspheric calm Ambarchi has spent so much time attaining gives way to palpable thrills. Bursts of static and torn high-frequency fragments blow across the rising drones like airborne debris before a gale, building and thickening and blackening for the better part of twenty minutes; if you’ve ever wanted Ambarchi to just rock the fuck out, your wish is granted here. Then the music opens into a plateau of bell and sine tones, serene and gorgeous. The lighter they get, the more distant the tolling bass, the more you feel the pressure remit. Bob Seger sang quite persuasively about “Heavy Music”; Ambarchi makes it.

By Bill Meyer

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