~reviewed by Eric Rasmussen
When it comes to music that is openly, well, open, to interpretation, it's easy for CDs to be simply hit or miss. I often feel this way about ambient CDs that attempt to convey to the listener absolutely nothing. "Here are some sounds!" they say. If you ask what they're supposed to mean, you're subjected to a brief run-in with Rogerian therapy as they answer: "Why don't you tell us what YOU think they mean." It might not be any wonder to you that with my general attitude towards ambient music - I just don't get into it that much. Fortunately, my recent encounters with ambient and experimental electronic music have begun to obliterate my usually stout and stubborn defenses against enjoying the music, and I'm now opening up to the strange genres. Upland plays experimental electronic/ambient music, and Knut Ruud's work has been instrumental in turning me to the, er, ambient side.
The difficulty in describing music that you need to experience for yourself is that it does no good to describe what the experience feels like - no one would ever entirely agree with my view of it. What I can tell you, however, is that Upland's debut CD features a heap of interesting electronic sounds and progressions. The first track opens with syncopated rhythms and unnatural electronic sounds. Admittedly, this is my least favorite song, but it is a suitable introduction to the others. As the songs progress, there is a definite movement towards more concrete sounds.
The rhythms stay syncopated, but often maintain an identifiable beat amidst the clicks and knocks, and various types of melody start to work their way into the music. The melodies are used sparingly, and evolve throughout the disc. In the beginning, there is little to no melody. Later, dark ambient noises and synth sounds are introduced into the soundscape alongside the rhythms. And then notes that are only loosely melodies work their way into the mix. Finally, by the last track - "Marshgate" - there is a fully identifiable and expressive melody.
The majority of the music does not imply any sort of emotion, but the general mood is dark. When listening, I can almost imagine being stuck in a dream where I am floating through space, happening upon shadowed planets and ships full of hardened mercenaries that eye me warily and keep a hand/paw/antennae on their weapons. Granted, Knut Ruud probably didn't set out to launch me into space when he designed this music, but he did leave the music open to interpretation intentionally. While I've come along way from merely regarding these recordings as hit or miss, it's still worth pointing out that Upland is a hit.
Upland has a good balance of rhythm, ambience, and melody that is suited to intrepreting whatever story you can dream up to go along with it, or whatever you may be engaged in when listening. The progression from beginning to end also gives it a feeling of movement, which is typically lacking from ambient music I encounter. Anyone into IDM, experimental, and ambient music including some Autechre, Plaid, and recent Ulver should give Upland a listen. And any fan of darker music not into those bands and genres may still want to give Upland a listen, particularly if you're into other Jester Records artists.
Upland - Official Site: