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Brock Van Wey - White Clouds Drift On and On


By reverting to his proper name, the artist known as bvdub is signalling an intent to move away from this genre. Perhaps. This mammoth 2 CD pack comes with the second disc being full of Steven Hitchell (Intrusion)’s reworkings and reinterpretations. I’ve made my thoughts known previously about the plethora of dub techno records being released in recent years, and their somewhat pointless presence, and at times I do realise that my own thoughts are perhaps a little vitriolic on the subject.

Van Wey’s “Return to Tonglu” last year demonstrated a willingness to move into more truly ambient territory, and he’s backed this up with this album, which doesn’t even contain as much as an iota of echo or a compressed kick drum. It’s quite an epic affair, the first CD’s tracks all following a fairly straighforward template of ambient atmospheres punctuated by simplistic, sometimes roughly edited loops of melodies. From time to time vocals pierce the melancholy enviroment, but they are kept to human chants and disembodied refrains rather than anything following a specific narrative. This is ambiguous music, albeit one tinged with an aforementioned tinge of sadness.

There’s a hint of the influence of Fennesz here too, in the sheer intensity of the drones that Van Wey employs, but for all the sheen and sheer attack of these sounds, the similarity of the melodic ideas merge into an abstract fog of mediocrity after 40 minutes or so. This is a long, long album, and Van Wey seems to occupy a no-mans land between those trying to sketch out noise with melody, and the true masters of hypnotic noise-laced territory like John Duncan or Kevin Drumm. I’m reminded a little of Popol Vuh’s later material with the African chanting in “I Knew Happiness Once”,  but it’s not until the beguiling, soporific tones of “A Gentle Hand to Hold” that we encounter the album’s heart and its best moment, cascading sheets of sound enveloping a simple guitar riff.  At nearly 80 minutes long, the album outstays its welcome by around 30 minutes or so, and I was left feeling that at least 2 tracks could have been omitted.

The 2nd CD is left to Stephen Hitchell to weave his dub production around a skeletal version of Van Wey’s tracks, and for once I’m rather taken with his view on matters.  His 24 minute version of “A Chance to Start Over” builds with microscopic detail, but to his credit it’s a hypnotic track, and the Intrusion reshape of “A Gentle Hand to Hold” is reassembled with a glorious after-hours feel to it that doesn’t rely on swamping the composition with reverb or delay. 

Ambient albums often occupy an odd niche in our collections - providing a backdrop to some other activity by their very nature, either physical or emotional, and in the right setting most do their job well. This fits into that and performs its function with ease, but the lack of emotional content here beyond a rather transparent and obvious melodic backdrop prevents me from giving it further praise.

Toby Frith


Reader Comments (1)

i only listened to it once through before selling it on discogs but the first cd of this was, especially in the vocal sections (which were frighteningly new-agey), among the clumsiest attempts at ambient i can remember hearing and a huge disappointment following all the pre-release hype.

July 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterciaran

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