Canadian musician Alaskan Tapes aka Brady Kendall has been quietly creating his own pocket in the underground Ambient/Drone/Modern Classical field with his latest self released album “You Were Always An Island” on white vinyl , in a limited edition of one hundred copies (with a deluxe CD version via Fluid Audio) released on July 19. He is joined by regular collaborators Chantal Ouellette and Raphael Weinroth-Browne who both appeared on last years “In Distance We’re Losing”.
“After releasing his sophomore album last August, Toronto-based ambient composer Alaskan Tapes kick started 2018 with a string of split singles. With four under his belt (eight songs total), as well as a 10:00 EP, he has already provided plenty for this calendar year. Rather than sit back, Alaskan Tapes has decided to progress even further with an upcoming LP, You Were Always an Island. At ten songs, the over half-hour release is a modern classical journey, a piano-driven dreamscape that takes to the outdoors, where melancholic isolation sways with relaxed seclusion. Press play and dream a little easier, drift a little lighter, and soak in the day.”
“Waiting (featuring Chantal)” noisy field recordings and possibly radio transmissions welcome string drones of long low tones that are coupled with other synth and piano drones and the vocals that make an additional drone element with the title repeated. Acting more like an intro to the album than as a standalone track, it sets the feel and pace that will follow and gives the listener a peak into what will unfold.
“While Falling” crunchy ricocheting sounds that are almost used as beats and low organ sounding drones are joined by an oscillating sound of unknown origin. Long string sections ambience drones come across painting a rich tone as each sweep they get more and more ornate, ’till the point that they have taken over the track with a full multi layered ambience. The initial sounds have been buried and thick floating and hanging drones have almost replaced them with the previously mentioned oscillating unknown sound punching through.
“You Were Always An Island” feedback drones welcome the title track before fading to silence before a reborn lush ambience takes their place with a howling quality embedded with static. Guitar spindles out coaxing ambient trails of a different texture to the weather soaked synth ones. The guitar ventures into post rock territory creating a rhythm for the listener to hold onto amidst all the ambience. The playing of the guitar (with tremolo effects) and piano steers the track away. While not listed in the track, there are vocal touches that are very reminiscent of the opener in their sound and phrasing which form part of the ambient resurgence once the guitar and piano have departed.
“To Leave” tiny fragments of piano and guitar wrestle away from linear drones that grow as these elements expand themselves. You feel the coming together of a collection of seemingly disparate elements such as what sounds like toy piano, wooden percussion and throaty vocals add various layers of melody and textures to the drones before becoming equal in presence and effect of the drones. There is a childlike innocence to the piece.
“Drifter” eerie looped dusty vinyl static with recordings of ghostly voices and ice-cold drones comprise a piece that sounds a buried document with sounds that feel submerged. There is a murky tone to the track which is emphased by the loops which mutate slightly to have beats which gives it an almost, but not really trip hop feel. Synth and guitar add the melodic ambience, but the focus is more on the dusty loops and manipulated voices.
“Places” natural recording of a cloaked sounding piano that resonates with a feeling not too dissimilar to that of strong synth drones that conjour up light. The piano I feel is used more for its ambient quality and the long tones that it creates, rather than its rhythms. Musically the pace evokes control and mindful playing with intention in mind and a use of repetitive phrasing.
“All Was Quiet” pulsing multi- layered synth ambience changes to evolving into a more string oriented piece with the subtleness of the cello gently coming through alongside some flickering electronics. Once the cello entered the track. the rest of it was opened up with a growth in the sound and a fusing of disparate elements together (such as what sounds like trumpet) to create a varied, almost rhythmic ambient track that feels with a few minutes mote it could really expand its scope.
“Skin (featuring Chantal)” takes a completely different approach to that of the rest of the album. The second listed track to feature Chantal Ouellette is an acoustic guitar and vocal track with effects on the vocals that make a ghostly almost trumpet sounding echoing vocal trail. The recording for both guitar and vocal is of lo-fi quality lending it to sound like a ‘found recording’ with a folky feel.
“Ruins” a growing drone starts the track off continuing to roughly oscillate at the same frequency, but reveal various textures such as synth bursts and what sounds like improv guitar loops. Gradually the components and drones start to become more noticable with the various guitar pieces becoming more pronounced as they bounce off each other and the other sound sources such as piano, snatches of dialog and others.
“In Trenches” brings forth an earthy sound with static, field recordings, guitar and hovering ambient drones. The music takes time and space to slowly unfurl, with the drones expanding and coating the track in light. The guitar becomes more fluid with small warped electronics scattering in. An additional layer of guitar which has a gently strummed harp-like feel to it continues the light airy feeling of the track. An electric guitar cuts through which has a bluesy tone which gives the track a different sound to the track and in a way acts as a central rhythm, one that is too briefly cut short.
As mentioned before, between his last album (“In Distance We’re Losing”) and this one, there have been a series of five two-track singles (of which album track “Drifter” was included on one paired with “Untitled #3”) and they act like a bridge between the two albums. For this particular album Kendall has opted for a diverse track listing which opens up more potential discovery in his music and shows his growth as an artist. One to sick back, soak up and enjoy.