Friday, 20 December 2013

Album Review:Harold Budd - Wind In The Lonely Fences 1970-2011

(All Saints Records)

All Saints records have made themselves the home for some of the most compelling ambient music from the last two decades, releasing well regarded albums like Biosphere's chilly classic Substrata and attracting a plethora of established musicians. Artists synonymous with the genre, like Brian Eno, John Cale and Harold Budd, whose music has now been collected as part of a series of reissues in a retrospective of sorts titled Wind In The Lonely Fences 1970-2011.

Budd grew up in America's Mojave Desert, you can see a loneliness in his music, though not always sadness, like staring out over an endless landscape in the quiet of the late night. Through this retrospective of Budd's career it becomes clear that one of his main strengths resides in the way that his music utilises empty space in the way that much of the best ambient music does. Budd, like Eno, has spent much of his career working with others, and the two have worked with each other on a number of occasions. It has allowed him to take many different approaches on a style wrought with new-age cliché and make it unique.

His earliest piece in the collection comes from the start of the seventies. The Oak of The Golden Dreams – and the obscure song titles might be Budd's biggest weakness – exploring drawn-out synthesizer drones, like a more meditative version of Terry Riley's electronic experiments like A Rainbow In Curved Air. Some of his best known work arisen from collaborations with Brain Eno including the lush slide guitar of The Pearl from the album of the same name and the track which this retrospective has taken it's title. Both of which are some of Budd simplest and starkly beautiful pieces.

Ooze Out and Away, Onehow, a collaboration with The Cocteau Twins, allows Budd to bring his atmosphere's to the shimmering guitars and Liz Fraser's distinct vocals. The song sounds more like a Cocteau Twins track and makes a nice change with its reverb washed drums and Budd's tactfully placed washed of sound fill the edges of the mix. Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie performs on How Distant Your Heart, a more recent collaboration from 2007, where he mixes his chorus laden guitar sound with Budd's gentle piano.

Sounds become more tangible on the contemplative, slow burning She's By The Window, where a string and woodwind section bring a full, classical sound, without electronics or echo, but still an evocative and emotional core remains. Other forays into contemporary classical sound with the percussive Hand 20, featuring XTC's Andy Partridge. Elsewhere Budd explores the spectral jazziness on Bismillahi 'Rrahman 'Rrahim and or the dystopian dreamscapes on Dark Star, a track that could have sound tracked a forgotten John Carpenter film (and shares it's title with the director's first film).

Whilst much of his music focuses on the sounds of echoing piano keys a surprising range of styles and approaches are shown over these 18 tracks. The music on this collection covers a large amount of sonic ground and at its worst, die to it's non-intrusive nature, it can sometime fade away from you into the background like a forgotten dream. Ambient music works best as long form pieces or on an album where it can be digested whole but Wind In The Lonely Fences makes for a perfect starting point for those who want to dig deeper into the composer's impressively varied back catalogue.

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