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Andrew Thomas - Between Buildings and Trees

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Artist: Andrew Thomas

Album: Between Buildings and Trees

Label: Kompakt

Review date: Jul. 6, 2010

If the ambient arm of German techno label Kompakt has a signature sound – and surely it does – it’s also made quite a virtue out of the differences that paradoxically yield from such consistency. But while their Pop Ambient compilation series is an ever-changing same, individual artist albums often cop the bum end of the Pop Ambient rap. Hence I’ve read, and probably written, countless reviews which dissolve records by Markus Guentner, Klimek and Ulf Lohmann into the same, staid language: gauzy, beatless, floating, drifty, etc. Try to find some writing on Kompakt ambient that doesn’t mention these terms, and as David Lee Roth would say, “Have a good time, on me.”

New Zealand artist Andrew Thomas will doubtless suffer from this ignominious fate. And to be fair, there are sections of Between Buildings and Trees that are interchangeable with his peers. They are lovely sections, mind you – gauzy, beatless, floating, drifty, etc. But Thomas has character to slow-burn. Not to mention a fine sense of the edit, with many of these tracks whittled down to a few minutes, making their statements quickly and effectively, before moving on. “Moth in Mouth” plonks a ponderous piano down in a lagoon of tape hiss and slowly seduces it with faux-romantic strings; “Hazer” is a harbor of amniotic pleasure, a docking in a port of filtered light. The opening “A Dream of a Spider” spins gentle pianos around tip-toeing drones, before resolving to guitar, from guest instrumentalist Signer, that’s lifted from the San Agustin school of melancholy. And on it goes.

It’s a lovely sound, strangely ascetic at times – the beginning of “Net to Catch a Ghost” is like Harold Budd with the flourishes and beauty stripped away; at other times, Thomas lets the clicks and clatters of the recording process skim across the surface of the tracks, like a tape spooling out in an empty, lonely room. Yet it’s also evocative stuff, and as much about the architecture of lived, interior spaces, as it is the mythic and Romantic landscape that ambient music so often tries to evoke. (‘Between buildings and trees,’ indeed.) But what I appreciate most about Andrew Thomas’s music is its quiet refusal to self-inflate. Here, small gestures are small gestures, humility is humility, and warm, simple pleasure is warm, simple pleasure. If only more of the records I come across during the daily trawl had such understated charm. You may find yourself, like me, listening to this album rather more than you would expect.

By Jon Dale

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