Published Feb 25, 2020What do we expect from ambience? Something unobtrusive that creates dimension in silence without interrupting silence? Or transformation — something that actively manipulates space, reconfiguring formlessness into ultimate form?
This is what I found myself asking during Hanging Valleys' Behind the Backs of Houses, an EP caught between the diaphanous intangibility of ambience and the grounding solidity of folk. It's a collection that slips pleasantly between active and passive song, background music that nonetheless scatters the dust motes floating by the window.
The EP's steadying force comes thanks to its percussive spine. The effect is that of swamp vapours rising from cattails, each wisp of sound tied back to a foundational source. The percussion is spacious and uncomplicated — a cyclical tom, a pattering palm, a heavy guitar string or the shuffling shadow that churns beneath the title track.
Hanging Valleys seem devotees of ambient music's repetitive power — the phenomenon of a simple melody played ad infinitum until it takes shape before your eyes. However, the songs on Behind the Backs of Houses tend to stop just short of this transmuting effect, their folk foundations and gentle shifts in rhythm keeping them from becoming truly hypnotic. They also stop just sort of being fully fleshed folk songs — simple melodies and indistinguishable lyrics keep them firmly ephemeral. This is music to feel to, not to relate to or understand.
Still, the EP casts a disarming spell. It could likely play on a loop for hours without grating, both solid enough to grasp and shapeless enough to drift into the subconscious. That it falls in some netherworld between folk and ambient is more a cerebral hurdle than a fundamental problem — it manages to create a world of its own, floating gently between the real and the imagined. (Independent)