Saturday, December 10, 2011

Review: Christopher Merritt - Crown Heights (Digitalis Ltd., 2010)

Christopher Merritt’s Crown Heights, despite falling under the general “ambient” category, cannot be regarded as being merely “wallpaper music” that exists somewhere in the background without distracting the listener much while he/she is doing something else. In terms of composition and density, his music falls closer to the likes of Sean McCann (at his least drifty and most “busy”) and maybe even Tim Hecker, in a way (not as much digitalized maybe, but still somewhat heavy in terms of sound alone).
Crown Heights, being his debut release, sets the stakes high: it is 25 minutes of intense, almost disorienting sound collages which combine thick layers of strings and violins, processed found sounds and shimmering, pulsing electronics in the vein of Sunroof! or beatless Astral Social Club. Two side-long compositions start and end abruptly, often changing into a whole different mindset with a violent shift, going in a second from full-blast noisy psychedelic bliss into barely audible remnants of melodies. The sound is bombast, heavy and flat out abrasive at times, yet it has nothing to do with noise music or its ideals – instead of cutting itself from any possibility of dialogue and providing sonic distress, Christopher Merritt sculpts demanding and slightly chaotic, yet rewarding and peaceful music, like an ADHD take on tape ambient music, using a dozen sources of sound at once, blending minimalist traditions of string-driven drone a’la Tony Conrad, processed and impossible-to-locate field recordings of Loren Chasse and Chris Watson and glitchy laptop folk of Greg Davis (pre New New Age era) and Christian Fennesz.
Christopher Merritt is a man to be watched. Digitalis Ltd. understood that we might be dealing with an unpolished diamond, a raw talent that only waits to be harnessed and trained and put into more constrained categories. Crown Heights is a document of raw ideas that might be a gateway to something grand if correctly applied and directed.

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