Ezekiel Honig, Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band

[Anticipate Recordings]

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New Yorker Ezekiel Honig’s ambient music does what the genre promises but often fails to deliver: through careful arrangement of and attention to sonorous material, it creates an environment that’s quietly seductive and almost supine. Its attention to texture is finely detailed, but it’s not showy about its exacting nature. Rather, on Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band, Honig proceeds as though he’s tip-toeing through rooms, across floorboards, carefully collecting and placing sonic objects and arranging them into new, vaguely odd formations. It’s music for the hypnagogic state, existing somewhere between wake and dream, and like the best ambient, it functions to tint the air and yields rewards upon close attention.

Part of the evocative power of Honig’s music is down to his use of field recordings. His approach is much subtler than many, as he generally doesn’t use them to build narratives; rather, they’re placed sensitively, threaded through muted, blocky rhythms (that remind a little of an updated version of the Young Marble Giants’ super-minimalist drum machine), and tangled with pads, chords, and almost-melodies that are often muffled or muted. The field recordings have a touch of the objet trouvé about them, as Honig creates art from found sounds here. But he also wrings these field recordings for their emotional qualities -– the muted rustle of a passing train, or the restful patter of rain on tin, are rendered rich with pathos through their careful juxtaposition with Honig’s exercises in melancholy.

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But the overarching mood of Surfaces of a Broken Marching Band is not one of overt sadness or mournfulness, even though it often progresses at a stately, almost funereal pace. Rather, Honig aims for something slightly more ambivalent. At its most, as on “Porchside Economics” or “Past Tense Kitchen Movement,” Surfaces is wistful, nostalgic, but nostalgic for an undefined time, as though Honig’s memories are fleeting and he’s trying to memorialise them through sound. This reminds me of several predecessors, from Klimek, whose stuttering, shaky Pop Ambient studies inhabit a similar state of suspension, through Brian Eno’s On Land and the instrumental interludes of Another Green World; maybe there’s also a touch of the ghostly Other that inhabits Boards Of Canada, though stripped of the sickly-sweet childishness. Some of the guitar interludes hang notes in the air much like Americana figures Steven R. Smith or Scott Tuma, too. But Honig’s onto his own thing here –- ambience that cocoons you, slow — freezes you in shades of gray.

chrisdisco  on November 19, 2008 at 5:26 AM

an excellent album deserves an excellent review. great write up.

hutlock  on November 19, 2008 at 8:11 AM

First of all, welcome aboard to Jon!

Second of all, this is a FANTASTIC album, easily my ambient choice of the year.

chris  on November 19, 2008 at 11:01 AM

maybe my favorite album of the year

littlewhiteearbuds  on November 19, 2008 at 11:14 AM

I actually find this record a bit unsatisfying and bland. But then again, when it comes to new ambient albums I heavily favor DJ Sprinkles’ (just barely ambient) Midtown 120 Blues, which says a lot about what I value in the genre.

harpomarx42  on November 20, 2008 at 4:20 PM

Hmm…I’ll have to give this another listen.

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