What’s that, you say? You’re looking for some good bliss-out music, but Jonas Munk (Manual) has become too gritty and earthy for you? Ulrich Schnauss doesn’t venture far enough into the stratosphere? M83’s atmospheres aren’t expansive and shifty-drifty enough for you to really get your bliss on? Well, in that case, may I humbly suggest Ecovillage’s Phoenix Asteroid? With this disc, Swedish duo of Emil Holmström and Peter Wikström have created what could very well be the ambient/dream-pop album of 2009. Surprisingly though, it’s deceptively more than just mere aural wallpaper.
To be sure, there’s quite a bit of song blur going on, in which the drones and drifts of one song just flow right into those of the next song. As a result, the album is little more than a Gaussian blur of shoegazer effects, synthesizer washes, and wispy vocals. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. When you’re looking for pure mood music that contains little too disrupt whatever serenity you’re seeking to attain, well, that describes a good deal of Phoenix Asteroid quite accurately — especially on tracks such as “Dawn Was Brand New,” “Invitation,” and the sixteen-minute title track.
But there’s also a surprising amount of Phoenix Asteroid that simply refuses to be passive, to fully sink into the background. Rather, it has a stubborn habit of throwing you for a loop right when you’re about to achieve that altered state of consciousness, sending you crashing back into realtime, and making you thank it for doing so. As much as I love my drones and ephemeral waves of sound, it’s this aspect of Phoenix Asteroid that continues to draw me back. Otherwise, I’d probably have written the album off as pretty sounding, but also pretty impotent.
I’ve listened to this album in its entirety nearly twenty times since receiving it in the mail, and I’m still plumbing its depths. I’m sure much of that is due to various forms of recording and processing trickery, but that doesn’t make it any less captivating. I typically lean towards the minimalist, “less is more” end of the spectrum, but there’s something almost giddily infectious about Ecovillage’s maximalist “more is more than more” approach. There’s always some little display of sonic diversity, some little hook that shoots out of the ether and snags you.
There are the world music flourishes that drift throughout the album, like the sitar on “Arise From The Ashes” that evokes exotic bazaars and the ghostly, ultra-reverbed steel drums on “Dawn Was Brand New.” Most of the vocals come from Holmström and Wikström, and are of the fey, androgynous variety that is par for the course in the shoegazer realms, but the vocals from Motown’s Sherlie Matthews provide an interesting, sensual counterpoint.
There’s even some shameless ’80s nostalgia to be found. Listening to the chrome-like guitar tones on “Here and Now” is like listening to all of the best bits of M83’s recent output rolled into one single track, perfect for that mixtape you’ve been itching to make all summer. If Jonas Munk’s constant repetitions of ’80s-inflected shoegazer pop has left you inured to the “genre” — if there is, indeed, such a genre — than “Here and Now” might just restore your faith in such a thing.
I was tempted to write off much of Phoenix Asteroid at first as music that was pretty, but overall, fairly fluffy and effete. But the album simply won’t let me write that review. Even now, it still manages to hook me every time I give it a spin. Which, when you consider just how gossamery much of Holmström and Wikström’s sonic palette is, strikes me as something worth getting to know a bit more.