softest — hidden guitar & water music

Here it is finally, the review of the new softest LP that was prematurely posted this past weekend. After my initial embarrassment at such a mistake, I have come to not only accept but enjoy the fact that the bar is so low now; I mean, as long as I can pull off a coherent thought and complete my sentences, this one is an improvement. We're going to try to do better than that though, as hidden guitar & water music deserves our best. Here goes...

It's a small (musical) world indeed, at least here at Pound for Pound. As you hopefully know, we recently discussed a new label Heavy Mess, which was started by braeyden jae. As we noted, braeyden was the founder of the Inner Islands label, which is now run by Sean Conrad, aka Ashan, the artist behind the most recent Heavy Mess release, Death Is New Life. To draw the web tighter, braeyden is not just a cassette label mogul; he also performs under the softest moniker and what do you know? He has a new release on, you guessed it, Inner Islands! Beyond the wonderful sounds emerging from these labels and people, there's something inspiring and exciting about the interconnections of so much of the New New Age stuff, what appears to be the emergence of another West Coast scene. I hope to do what we can to support that scene, connect it to other like-minded labels and artists and . The obvious move is to continue to review all of the wonderful releases that they are producing, so with that, here are some thoughts on hidden guitar & water music.

hidden guitar & water music is the fifth release of Braden McKenna's softest project, all on Inner Islands. McKenna is also the person behind the WYLD WYZRDZ, the now-defunct solo psyche drone project that was responsible for some of the earliest Inner Islands releases. Discogs references a "New Weird Utah" scene, which obviously caught my attention; I mean, how did we not know about an entire state in the New Weird America? I have no excuses, but just know that I am on the case. Anyway, this new one, hidden guitar & water music, is actually a single track, albeit a 36-minute one, and a digital-only release (sorry tape heads!). Before I ramble, I should actually describe what you will hear.

Actually, on second thought, the title probably gives it away; this record is an extended ambient track that blends field recordings of water doing various things (gurgling, dripping, raining) with soft guitar and synths doing others (droning, drifting, fogging), which all adds up to create a soothing, immersive environment, an audio equivalent of sinking into a warm bath after a long day. This is probably ambient music at its most core, as it certainly builds a liquid environment, while maintaining the ability to be both focus and wallpaper, depending on your mood and when you listen. Actually, that sense of rising and receding nicely captures the dynamic of the album, which probably isn't surprising considering the fact that water plays the central role. Over the course of the 36 minutes, water dominates one's attention, while the electronic creates a shoegaze-y haze in the background; during other passages though, one picks up on the guitar notes and chords, the deep drones and pads, while the water serves as as a rainforest-like white noise backdrop. It's really beautiful stuff actually, but you need to give it the time to unfold. Above is an excerpt that Sean has graciously shared with us that gives you a chance to experience the first fifth of the track and will have you wanting more. 

Anyway, I can't say that I planned it, but this record feels like a natural follow-up to our last post on William Ackerman's Sounds Of A Wind Driven Rain and discussion of lullabies, sleep, ambient music and spaces of respite. I must confess that in the hundreds of times I have listened to this since I got a copy, many of those times were before or during sleep, which is my highest compliment these days. It's not just the peacefulness of the bubbling, burbling water and the spaces it evokes (baths, lakes, pools, oceans), although they definitely do the job. It's also the soft guitar drones, which drop a shoegaze haze over everything, creating a dream-like vibe that can't but help suggest sleep and rest. Like all of the best lowercase music, this small, quiet sounds make you seek out places where you can be in peace and hear, places of retreat and respite.

I think what most interests me about the record is how it sits on the border of field recording and ambient/drone music. While I love the reductive search for a genre or medium's specificity, there is something exhilarating about a work that blurs those lines, that finds the liminal space between. In this case, Braden has created a floating space that draws out the musicality of nature and the naturalness of the drones; it's a fantastic hybrid one that effortlessly blends the natural and synthetic, the real and the imaginary, the composed and improvised. What would we call this liminal zone? I'm not sure, although the label's description of the track may suggest an answer: ""forces that are hidden in plain view. another world, wavelength, nowhere." Do you hear the echoes of utopia in those words? Another world, hidden, waiting for us to listen closely to discover all that is happening quietly on these different wavelengths.

As you can tell from my ramblings, this one has definitely had an impact on me. I highly recommend that you check it out and see what thoughts and dreams it brings you. It's a digital only release, so you can grab it at the label's Bandcamp for the insanely low price of $3USD. I mean, that is less than you pay for basically everything today and this actually will give you pleasure forever. For those who dig this, I highly recommend digging into the Inner Islands catalogue more; check out our review of the label's other recent digital-only release, Channelers' Arden Tapes. Also, check out Braden's new-ish Heavy Mess cassette label, which is quickly establishing itself as an essential outlet for the best in ambient, New New Age and the just plain experimental. Check out our thoughts on the label's recent ones—Ashan's Death Is New Life and Gossimer's Close the Circle, Lay the Stoneshere and here. Then, buy and buy.

Back to the 1990s next, talk soon.