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Pale Blue Sky / Cloaked Light - Shade of Grey / Split

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Artist: Pale Blue Sky / Cloaked Light

Album: Shade of Grey / Split

Label: Arbor

Review date: Jul. 29, 2010

Much music goes to extremes — of speed, volume, frequency, imagery — to get your attention. The music Mike Pollard makes mines an ostensibly more mundane middle ground, at least tonally and timbrally speaking, in an effort to create an extreme of feeling somewhere between an impersonal infinity and personal, internal bliss. In the brief liner notes to Shades of Grey, the debut 12” of his Pale Blue Sky project on his own Arbor Records, he says as much: “Intended for listening at a modest volume in a quiet room.” No appeals to volume, and a plea for silence. Pollard wants our full attention, but he’s not going to shout to get it.

Using some combination of guitar, synth, a few pedals and tape manipulation, Pollard creates what we could call ‘peripheral music.’ But even if you’re meant to hear this music out of the proverbial corner of your eye, it is not meant as background music. The call-and-response play of hovering tones on “Attempt” would dissipate if you were distracted, likewise the soft-focus compression and expansion of “Luring Movement” would lose their subtle shifts of dynamic and the melodic filigrees misting through “Green Tint” would crumple. This is fragile material, and Pollard himself doesn’t always have the most sensitive touch with it, as there are a couple of abrupt fade-outs that break the spell.

Pollard’s side of the split with Peter Friel’s Cloaked Light guise offers more soft-pedal, short-form sublime, wtih Friel’s side providing a more long-form version of the same. Without names and titles on the sides, you’d be forgiven for confusing the two, or even thinking it was the same artist, but the pairing does prove instructive. Friel stretches out a handful of tones for the entire side, layering in some field recordings that work as a counterpoint, while Pollard keeps his pieces compact. Friel’s side is immersive, Pollard’s is suggestive. Both are effective.

One problem with making music that rejects extremes is that it doesn’t provoke an immediate response. If you’re not willing to sit back and let this music do what it does, if you push it to be about something more, then you’ll be disappointed. The music on these 12"‘s is not pop music, it’s not overtly conceptual or experimental, it’s not even really drone, although it does borrows a little from all these approaches. More than anything, Pollard and Friel are about stasis, musical and mental. They remind us that standing still is an extreme feat in itself.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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