[reviews] afe084lcd
steve brand: awakensong

aural pressure []
webzine, u.k., july 2006

Afe Records are the purveyors of a now well-trodden path littered with descriptive press releases using words such as “ambient”, “relaxing”, “meditative” and “ritual” to describe their artists, and this – the second album I am reviewing from the label - consolidates their stance with Steve Brand’s latest offering, “Awakensong”.

Brand has been making music since the mid 1980’s with a variety of projects, operating from deep within the American subculture. "Awakensong" very much displays its colours from the outset, "Song for Opening" typifies the general thrust of the whole album pulling on his armoury of gongs, cymbals, rattles etc to create a heady, ritualistic pastiche.

There is a subtly burgeoning menace lurking here, and I sense that I am embarking on a journey of mystery and enlightenment. Having read Brand’s press statement, a declaration of intent if you like, it is clear that he is a deeply committed and focussed individual, and sees his soundwork as not only the purest form of intuitive communication, but also as a direct link to our ancient, arcane ancestory.

Of course, I am always deeply suspicious of grandiose statements such as this, as they so often mask a music/product that is vaporous and insubstantial. Not so in this case. This is not mere music, but an almost shamanic attempt at deconstructing our interpretation of reality, by connecting us to an anti-technological, primal psyche. Instrumentation here is used in a pared down, but evocative way that transcends any singular ethnic or ritual orientation.

Brand successfully manages to invoke atmospheres that bridge cultural references; I am hearing influences from disparate places, the indigenous Indians of North America for instance, perhaps something drawn from Japanese Noh, Mayan tribal music, although none of them dominating the overall soundscape.

Conversely, "Song for Illumination" is pure electronica – a resonant tonescape that brings to my mind the sun setting over the pyramid at Chichen Itza, a place loaded with ritualistic significance, and a barbaric history… a curious effect, as in any other setting, these images would not spring to mind at all – such is the power of Brand’s music.

"Song for Sacred Places" has exactly the same effect, yet more obviously uses flute, bass flute, rattles and medicine drum – only this time I am actually “living” in the ritual... heady stuff indeed, and best listened to under headphones in a dark and quiet place.

"Song for the Moon" once again conjurs up my recent visits to ancient sites in Mexico, with the ever present sound of crickets overlaid with shakuhachi. This combination of sounds has a mesmeric effect, particularly when the shakahuchi becomes more layered, more resonant, it reverberates and sparkles, the crickets song insistent, urgent even - a genuinely moving piece of work.

I think it is obvious by now that I loved this album, although it would not necessarily be my music of choice, Steve Brand has created a CD that “does exactly what it says on the tin”, creating a magical, haunting soundscape that becomes an access point into our preconscious depths.