Give Them Space
Bear in Heaven - I Love You, It's Cool
Roman Ruins - Homebuilding
Just as I was nearing the end of the newest Bear In Heaven offering, something fascinating happened on the track “Warm Water”. At the one minute-sixteen second mark, the sound of a faucet or a pipe leaking is introduced. The sound grows and warps itself every few seconds causing the listener to pay full attention to the modifications and details of each layer of electronics presented. This was the third time hearing this moment and the first time it caused me to stare off into oblivion and let the music take over. What changed?
My first listen of I Love You, It’s Cool was on external speakers hooked up to my laptop in a small room. I felt like it was a decent record that had interesting moments, but ultimately the album was too repetitive, and perhaps too in love with its own concepts. My second listen was on a good pair of headphones. Once again, a digital listen, but I always give headphone plays the most attention because on detail-oriented records like I Love You, It’s Cool, not a moment should be missed or a review would be unfair. Once again, I shrugged. This time the record felt claustrophobic, the sounds wanted to be sonic landscapes, but from ear to ear they were ultimately simplistic sketches or a first thought to what could be a spacious and adventurous record.
Then I received the vinyl copy of I Love You, It’s Cool and listened to it in a large living room with surround sound. Everything changed. In the larger space, in the open, the album flourished. Every layer of electronics seemed to explore and wrap itself around a different portion of the large room. The constant waves of synths, with all so subtle variations, now introduced themselves clearly to the listener. The artists’ intent was captured without the previous repetitive moments or claustrophobia. On a song like “Sinful Nature”, the previous listens only left me agitated, but in the large room the sounds crept up on me from all directions, genius simplicity crawling up and down the walls, spinning around the senses, and creating an audible experience that was much more in line with what I would expect would be the artists’ intention of how the record should be heard.
To give the record an honest spin, I turned off the surround sound and had the album played only out of the two front and center speakers. Nothing changed. This record is surround sound on its own, if you play it with enough space to allow it to stretch out. In the end, I fell in love with the record and its ability to live outside the speakers. Somehow, Bear In Heaven created a somewhat interactive record that is enhanced by the physicality of whatever unique space in which you choose to listen to it. If you listen to this record in a small space, on your laptop, or directly in your ears, the world they craft is confined, cramped, and ultimately strained. Let it loose and the wonders of this ever-expanding record are released.
Space has a much different role on Graham Hill aka Roman Ruins’ album Homebuilding. This record is all about obsessing over the compartmentalizing of space in its relationship to sound. Every new sound or choice Hill makes is methodically placed in a specific section of his multilayered songs. If Homebuilding were a visual it would be a crisp blueprint of a home with every angle and architecture note perfectly drawn and framed dead center. It’s this precision that makes Homebuilding a clean and impressive listen.
It’s not a stretch to have these thoughts if one were to dig through Hill’s resume, which includes being a live percussionist for Beach House and the Papercuts, two bands that make magic while staying inside the lines. Also, Hill is actually an architect and landscape designer, so order is his life.
Homebuilding is a fascinating mix of pop and ambient sensibilities. A complaint I often have with ambient music is that the sounds just seem to wander without any payoff or structure. But Hill holds his ambiance to a strict framework. Every moment seems focused on the goal of the overall track rather than falling in love with a single feeling and letting it destroy the greater idea.