On February 1, 2024, sadfam records released Stained Glass, a new album of experimental electronic ambient music by Los Angeles-based keyboardist Steve Blum. Inspired by the glasswork at the Zionskirche in Berlin, this album is “…where the past and future intersect: destruction and creation, ostentation and modesty, reactionaryism and progressivism.“ Minimalist in structure with a variety of electronic and ambient sounds, Stained Glass skillfully blends technology with the art of music.

Forest is the first track of the album and has a bright, bouncy piano line to open. The notes sparkle like rain drops as a countermelody is heard in the middle register. A low, twangy guitar line weaves its way in and around the others. This results in a nice groove with all the elements balanced and working together. About halfway through, a slower section of bass tones dominates as the piano lines recede into the smooth overall texture. Forest has an energy and variety that uplifts and refreshes. Towards the finish the tempo slows as the sounds diminish and thin out to a quiet ending.

Kinetic, track 2, opens with solitary beeps in a simple melody, soon joined by other lines that form a bubbly, playful groove. This has a strongly percussive texture – a bit like being inside a pin ball machine. About halfway through, the rhythms start to unravel and no longer seem to be following the same beat. There is a rising sense of disorder but this soon recovers back into a steady beat before fading to the finish. Kinetic is both an elemental and lovely piece.

Track 3 is Dialogue and this opens with a strong beat in a repeated, syncopated knocking sound. Aggressive and only minimally melodic, electronic beeps soon join in to form a swirl of new, higher lines. Different rhythms appear with strange sounds, some of which are reminiscent of music by Weather Report. The knocking continues independently, as if in a dialog with a call but no response. There is an intriguing, mysterious feeling to Dialogue.

At just a little over two minutes in length, the shortest piece of the album is Interlude, track 4,. This has a nice rolling beat in the middling registers with some lovely rhythms above. There is a sunny and optimistic feeling to this as well as a sense of roiling purpose. The texture becomes broken and sketchy as the short existence of Interlude dissembles at the finish. Acting as a kind of bookend is Postlude, another short piece that concludes the album on track 10. This is solo piano music with a gentle and melodic opening, conventional harmony as well as a warm romantic feeling. Not fast or flashy but quiet and thoughtful – a perfect way to end Stained Glass.

Reflection, track 5, is the longest piece on the album and features vocalist Kathryn Shuman. In fact, according to the composer “…every sound on track 5 is from a sample of Kathryn’s voice, re-pitched and edited.” This opens with a long series of electronic beeps and boops that are sometimes in harmony and sometimes dissonant. The sounds pulse rapidly through different registers and seem very much like signaling. There is a lot of energy here, partly electronic and partly vocal. Yet overall these elements blend together into a coherent texture. Bubbly and welcoming at times while strident and alien at other times. Ms. Shuman’s vocals are both agile and highly creative, mixing well amid the swirl of sounds.

At about 5:45 lower and warmer sounds are heard underneath in two different lines. This has an organic and exotic feel that could be a conversation in a foreign language; perhaps a discussion between life forms? A low vocal gesture finishes the piece. Reflection is engaging and animated throughout.

Puristic follows on track 6 with sharp, single electronic notes accompanied by a bass beat. This has a distinctly percussive and explosive feel, like listening to popcorn. Several interleaving lines enter and fade with repeating figures. An altogether happy sound, upbeat and sunny. As the piece proceeds, the lines wander in their rhythms evoking the other-worldly before returning to a more coherent texture. Puristic is joyful yet precise music.

Uncle, track 7, opens with an intense all percussion sound. The rhythms syncopate briefly then return, developing into a nice groove. This has a primal feel with a strong beat and inviting texture. Some rapid drumming adds to the energy of Uncle, an inventive piece that gets a lot out of its mix of percussion. The next track, Idyllic, also has a strong percussive presence, combined with a smooth electronic melody line that is nicely offset by counterpoint below. Idyllic rolls along with different lines moving around but always giving off a sweetly contented vibe.

Ocean, track 9, follows, opening smoothly with a gentle but deliberate tempo. A simple piano line arcs over over sustained chords in strings. The slow rising and falling of the dynamic evokes a calm ocean, and the warm harmonic undercurrents produce a quiet, reflective ambiance. Ocean is always at ease as it drifts along, free of tension or anxiety, a beautiful piece of music.

Stained Glass successfully combines alluring and colorful electronics with minimalist rhythmic energy. Steve Blum’s music is exotic, but not alien, and at the same time it is agreeably familiar in its emotional intention.

Stained Glass is available for digital download at Bandcamp.