Last updated on October 9, 2020
STARFKR is a band that I really should like more than I do. I was a big dance-rock guy when STARFKR was on the rise, but for some reason it just never connected with me. Never, that is, until now. STARFKR decided to release an ambient album called (appropriately) Ambient 1, and it is impressive. To smoothly move from their band-oriented work to this is a feat, as these two sounds have little (but not nothing) in common. Yet despite the sonic shift, this set of tunes is assured, varied, and handled deftly.
I went through a phase where ambient washes was my go-to jam, but I’m really too much of a pop guy at heart to go full-on waves of sound. I need motion to keep things going. Not a lot of motion, but at least some motion. A dance-rock band suddenly releasing ambient work is basically perfect for me: opener “Rainzow” is basically a chilled-out arpeggiator pattern layered over a distant, wavering melody. So there’s a lot of momentum in this piece, even if it’s the sort of momentum that reminds me more of flowing water than driving beats. The primary instruments on this record are round, buoyant synths stripped of harsh edges to their tones, and “Rainzow” is a perfect introduction to the record. It’s a lazy, relaxed piece, a balm for the soul a bit.
“Work Smoothly Lifetime Peace” is a bit more on the truly ambient side, as the arpeggiator base is dropped for a more droning bass. However, the occasional melodies that play over the drone inject more life into the proceedings. It may be ambient, but it’s not wallpaper. “Bunji” and “Telescope” are warm, delicate embraces of burbling tones. “Kaleidoscope” combines the arpeggiator and the drone for an interesting take on their ideas; there’s also a little bit more edge to the tones in this piece.
The back half of the record does a few new things–“Anxiety” and “Zij Aan Zij” are ominous, “Zee Major” is all maximalist space-opera vibes, and “Nexus” and “Concentrate” include hand percussion for variation. “Nexus” is a highlight track, as it changes up some of the tones and creates a more adventurous, chase-scene landscape. “Sleep” closes out the record back near the sounds of the beginning of the record, using an organ-esque drone to lull the listener into a peaceful situation.
Ambient 1 is an ambient record for people who don’t have patience with ambient records. The sounds are (mostly) peaceful, but never placid–the sounds move and jump and get going. There are memorable melodies from some of the tracks, which makes sense from the background the band has. It’s not a perfect record (“Zij Aan Zij” worries me, I skip it sometimes), but it’s a high-quality ambient offering from a band who I would not have expected to give us one.