I’ve been wrestling with a way to correctly convey a feeling about the music on this album without making it about the battle of the sexes. You see, when I listen to pieces like some of the ones that make up this album or those by another artist like Poeme, I am aware of a feminity in the music that is not always apparent in the Ambient / Drone world. I am not sure whether it’s to do with the (like most things) male dominance or its more that female artists have a way of adding an extra dimension to the music whether it be more an emphasis on melody, emotion or texture that gives it this feeling. Maybe I am reading a little bit more into it, but the feeling I get from the music on this particular release is similar to those the have a meditative core, but with these pieces there is a very peaceful and nurturing prescence felt.
“The Gathering Dawn” is the debut solo album from Hollie Kenniff. The album , which is her first ambient proclamation, displays a sprawling looseness in sharp contrast to her works as one half of Mint Julep with husband Keith Kenniff (Helios, Goldmund). “The Gathering Dawn” wistfully utilizes glacial synths, blurred out guitars and Hollie’s melancholic vocal plumes as a basis. The album finds Hollie effortlessly folding classic ambient motifs in with minimal modernist brushstrokes.”
The pieces on the album, especially the opening third open the listener up to a slow paced sound world that is as lush as it is enticing, with an emphasis on tones and building blocks of sound. Kenniff from the outset casts you into the clouds as you float away with “Aubade”. Naturally the name which means “a poem or a piece of music appropriate to the dawn or early morning”, follows the theme of the album’s title, sets up an ethereal feeling that you will find embedded throughout parts of the album. The pace and temperature of the piece hints at a stillness which also has a strong feeling of hope woven through it. In a way it’s the perfect sort of opening track as it offers up a journey that will be undertaken and leaves the surprise that it won’t be all this way for you to discover.
On “Soft Pulse” Kenniff introduces her voice as an instrument with an ethereal breathiness that is used as blocks of sounds over the beds of synth. Her voice comes in several dimensions with some having a slightly darker tone, while lighter tones hovering high above and offers a nice contrast to the more moodines droning of the music. “So Good and Wild” builds on the vocal motifs started on “Soft Pulse” crafting them like most ambient musicians would do using instrumentation like synth, guitar or cello while aquatic synth progressions bubble below.
“Field Edge” is a study in minimalism and near stillness. The nature of the music with its minimal progressions and voices that overlap give it a reverence that feels religious and at times ghostly. There is a shimmering quality to the music that makes it feel like it’s hanging on or gently cascading. The way that piece is constructed makes for the music to be slightly more in the darker territory with the hum that runs through the core of the piece.
A highlight of instrumental music is the way that it can draw a visual accompaniment and make you feel of a particular environment. The title of “The Timing of Glaciers” naturally inspires visions of great blocks of ice, sun shining over cold terrain in complete isolation. A cold wind whips around and chills while the brightness blinds you. Of all the tracks on the album that pairs Kenniff ‘s voice and synths, this and the following track “Nearly Every Day” feel like the perfect pairing of the album’s elements. “Nearly Every Day” sees a slight soar in the synths, returning to the hope filled feeling of the music that I mentioned before. It’s almost as if when people think of affirmations or have a positive mood and this is the translation of those feelings into musical form. Every so subtle bass line notes and what sounds like guitar chimes add a sense of wonder to the piece.
The temperature drops with “Home Will Follow” which hints at dark ambient territory without being overly dark. The drones and ambient move at a glacial pace, sliding over each other like tectonic plates of sound shifting in repeating patterns which gives a feeling of being lost with no idea of where to turn. While it does veer more in a darker feeling it still is consistent with the rest of the album’s pieces. The final track “Always Elsewhere” rivals “The Timing of Glaciers” and “Nearly Every Day” as the highlight track of the album. It’s also the one that for some reason I could see being remixed with beats fitting in quite nicely. The drifting, floating quality (and by the name of this blog you would know my liking for music that drifts), circles back to “Aubade” before having a life if it’s own with discordant guitars and fragile piano keys sweeping the music up into a post-rock like crescendo. It’s the perfect way to finish the album as not only does it reminds you of where you’ve been and then hints at a future direction the Kenniff could take in the future, but it extends on the minimalism of the album and offers a wide-screen view of her vision.
The point I made about the feminine quality of the music still feels relevant at the end of the album as it did at the start. The impression I get is one where a humanistic approach has been taken in the construction of the pieces and it more about this approach than it is about layering of sound. Kenniff’s use of her voice is an inspired decision as it’s employed as an instrument, enhances the music and in some way steers it’s direction. Hopefully this is just the first of many releases in the ambient sphere. “The Gathering Dawn” is available on Pink vinyl, CD and Digital from the fifteen of November.