When artists come into the Ambient sphere it is interesting to seek out their origins. Traditionally they mainly come from the electronic scenes such as Techno or House music or via more harsher forms of music like Hardcore and Metal. In Low Variety aka R. Cole Furlow’s case it is the noise pop of Dead Gaze. Interestingly when you compare a piece from this album like “Meeting Dollars” alongside Dead Gaze’s “Yuppies Are Flowers”, while not sounding the same, you can detect a similar origin that has been twisted into new ways of presentation.
“Low Variety is the new experimental project of R. Cole Furlow. A native of Jackson, Mississippi, Furlow is the mastermind behind noise-pop stalwarts Dead Gaze and the former bass player for Dent May. Furlow released three acclaimed albums and several EPs under the Dead Gaze moniker, touring internationally for several years. Pitchfork called Furlow a “real voice of his generation” Vice heralded the music as “toe-tapping sway through the feel-goods” and Allmusic praised the home-produced quality of Dead Gazea’s sophomore album, Easy Travels.
Leaving behind the blown-out pop of his former project, Low Variety finds Furlow diving deep within himself, creating ambient music with a melodic touch. Through decades of honing his craft producing records for others and himself, Furlow indulges his experimental side, meticulously arranging each scrape and noise to create a calm, tranquil world, a peaceful place for healing. Low Variety #1 is not quite ambient music, but it isn’t pop either. It’s melodic, but not insistent, and it never overstays its welcome. It can sit as comfortably in the background just as easily as it can be obsessively picked apart. The record is a tactile world, warm and soothing to the touch, fuzzy and worn as an old blanket. Furlow describes the record as a collection of “new age instrumentals” specifically citing the Windham Hill label as a major influence, as well as flamenco guitarist Paco de Lucia and Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse.”
Opening with the rather experimental collagic feel of “Reqium for Charles Henri Ford” which pairs dialogue with warped electronics, the track really grains traction after the first minute and a half when it’s melody lines start to unfold to reveal a dreamy present but with retro touches, synth ambience. The choppy rhythm gives the piece a feeling of colours cutting through and hints at possibilites. The album really starts to take form with the aforementioned “Meeting Dollars” with its near folktronic meets country meets electronica feel. Furlow easily moves through from acoustic to electronic instrumentation seamlessly evoking the work of Jerome Alexander aka Message to Bears. The purity of Furlow ‘s acoustic playing continues with “Pearl Street Exit”, a track that has very subtle moments of it appearing to fade away ever so slightly as if it the tape is failing. Towards the end of the track it is sucked into a vibrating noise of sub bass feel. “Dripping AC” removes all acoustic feel that has come before with a mixture of three main electronic elements – a Morse code like looped rhythm, a prog ambient synth of Sci fi origin and a retro, but dark melodic synth. The brief track at this point stands out, but alludes to something more.
With “Consolation Honda” Furlow nicely frames both sonic influences into a piece that pairs the rhythm on both acoustic guitar and synths with flourishes of banjo, while exploring more in the ambient vein with swirling electronics that fill out the sound of the piece and give it meat to the bones. It also shows Furlow stretching out from the Folktronica sound and creating a rhythmically rich track that offers much to those that like electronic or acoustic instrumentation. Reading the notes it alludes to division of property after a divorce and there is an introspective feel to the piece without it being to mournful. After a beginning which made me think was a brief interlude of dark pulsing synths with helicopter like noises and eerie soundscape, Furlow then leads the listener into acoustic territory with “Vini”, this time with more fragile sounds interacting with his entrancing playing. Chime like sounds and affected electrical guitar lines that warp add an eerie edge that was established at the top of the track. Texturally it quite the adventurous track and shows Furlow unafraid to experiment.
Not being totally familiar with the rich history of the Windham Hill label (I am more au fait with their history than their complete discography), the playing on “Honey Bear” makes me think that is an update of the sound of pastoral.acoustic new age based music brought into the future with the slightest of electronic embellishments. It also feels like a track that has the strongest narrative feel with the way that the track feels like it has a real purity and a sense of direction with all elements supporting each other and being consistent, rather than offering different textural or instrumentation. It works as the perfect example of the fusion of acoustic and electronic with an emphasis clearly on the guitar as the storyteller.
“Rankin County Hello” sounds like it was recorded on an old phone answering machine and has a lo fi, nostalgic loop fuelled sound of glitches, hazy guitar and spindly sounds that feel in some way like tape unravelling at speed.
“Recognize & Release”, the lead singer from the album gives a glimpse into Furlow’s past for those that are like myself and are not familiar. I say this because it has a strong pop sensibility without it being a pop song. It’s more about the hooks and the construction rather than overly pop orientated feel. That said, if more pop songs sounded like this, then I could find myself being seduced by the music. Omce more Furlow entrances us with guitar (this is my favourite guitar oriented album since Amparo’s “Palm House” cassette) but the ambient touches to this piece are what make it. There is a fragility in the sounds, but the overall feel is one of ebullience. The way that the elements are structured, at times mirroring the guitar but offering a different tone and feel give the piece depth and also hooks. There is an obvious reason for this leading out the album as it is a piece that draws the listener in with the promise of more to come.
“Voncile & Barbara” an electronic door bell melody from the recent past opens the piece to ambient soaked soundscapes with guitar work that has a noodling and earnest new age meets folk feel. There is a definite cinematic feel to the piece with the music having a emotional prescence which feels like as of the protagonist is in an introspective mood. The layering of guitar work is subtle enoug to maybe miss, but it adds an extra dimension to the piece.
“School Night Hope” a brief interlude of a track, but it keeps within the cinematic spirit of some of the work. Distorted electric guitar lines ring out over woozy synth tones resulting in a summery feel of dusk when the sun goes down.
“Thin Wood” Furlow finishes off the album with the perfect comedown track. The piece exudes a calmness and introspection. The mix of the rawness of the guitar with the the echoic chimes that in some way sound like glass being played, is one which accentuates the mood highlights and confirms Furlow’s decision to move into the Ambient sphere. The tones that he uses towards the end of the track are the kind that I am a sucker for – melodic without being sweet with just enough mystery about them.
The way in which Furlow inhabits the two main sound worlds of the album is one of a seamless progression and makes you think that he has been working this way from some time refining his technique. The history of his past doesn’t necessarily define his present work, but the experience in composing and producing helps as the music on this album feels so effortlessly good and eminently enjoyable. The music feels like the perfection combination of Ambient and New Age meets Acoustic. The new Age elements are more about the positive feel of the music rather than any mystical connatations that are usually associated with that particular style of music.
“#1” is available from FatCat from October four.
You can pre-order the release from FatCat here.