White Bird Release
Kranky CD 128
A dozen years in, Mark Nelson’s Pan American project is still with the same label (Kranky) and still creating fascinating ambient soundscapes. But one shouldn’t mistake continuity for stagnation!
Indeed, there’s a combination of novelty and comfortable familiarity to be heard on the LP. Joined by bassists Jim Meyering and William Lowman and percussionist Steven Hess, Nelson pursues a more collaborative sound scheme than on some of his more soloistic recent recordings. Hess’s co-authorship of two of the cuts, as well as his tasteful vibraphone playing and drumming, lends an organic quality to “For Aiming at the Stars” and “Dr. Robert Goddard in a Letter to H.G. Wells, 1932.”
At the same time, there are echoes of Labradford, Nelson’s other outfit, to be found amidst the reverberant soundscapes here. “There Can Be No Thought of Finishing” and “Literally and Figuratively” feature deliciously sepulchral (and ever so well-recorded) bass drones; akin to bass-lines found on some of Labradford’s most winning work (E Luxo So, Fixed: :Content). Indeed, Meyering’s strummed chords provide a beautiful counterpart to Nelson’s treble-register harmonic pads.
“Is a Problem to Occupy Generations” demonstrates a capacity to be simultaneously ambient and experimental; its questing melodies are awash in reverb, arching towards an endpoint never quite to be reached. Conversely, the folk-like pentatonic phrases that inhabit “There is Always the Thrill of Just Beginning” seem to give the lie to much ambient-inspired “World” music, by eschewing its easily palatable background designs in favor of a more enigmatic – and far more interesting – hypnotic blurring.
Pan American remains a hardy, worthwhile endeavor; White Bird Release features some of Nelson’s most beautiful music to date.