Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Ithica's ambient music has a beating heart and emotion to spare

February 23, 2011

The problem I have with most ambient music is that it lacks a beating heart. For me to enjoy anything — whether it’s metal, indie rock, acoustic folk or jazz — there must be some emotion that I can tap into. And much ambient music, while pretty, lacks a human element.

Ithica fought against the coldness of ambient music when creating Bertrand Russell’s Ice Cream Truck and won. The thirty-one minute album, which appropriately starts off with a ten-minute track called “Ambiently,” takes all of the most emotive aspects of Ithica’s brilliant self-titled album and distills them into an vocal-free, downtempo mix.

It’s important to note that Ithica’s self-titled debut was neither ambient nor instrumental. The fact that this is not their only genre makes this album much better. They know that a boring song in the ambient world is no artsier than a boring song in the pop world. These songs aren’t fast-paced by any means, but there’s a thread that runs through them of immediate payoff. The melodies are well-placed and not belabored or repeated. The band says what it wants to say and then gets out of there, on to the next thing.

A reverent, highly emotional mood from their self-titled album also carries over. These excellent songs create serene, contemplative soundscapes. This is mind-blowing headphone music, but it also has the power to transform the feel of an entire room.  It’s not all synth washes and glacial tempos, either; there’s plenty of digital bleeps and boops (“How to Play Chess With Human Hands”), fast-paced percussion loops (“A Shiny Broken Toy”), and even some distortion going on in the title track (which I researched, but failed to discover the meaning behind).

But the best moments here are not just great, they’re revelatory. “Ambiently,” “August 5th” and “The Language of Children” tap into emotions and places in my mind that few other bands have the power to access. These are the sort of songs that I would want in the soundtrack of my life; perhaps a late-movie montage sequence where I look back on all the best thankfully but remorsefully while looking bravely to an uncertain future.

I doubt it will conjure up the same feelings in you, but I’m relatively sure it will conjure up something. These tunes are brilliant and beautiful, and I am thankful I got to hear them.

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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