Monday, October 19, 2009

New Clouds - White Rainbow

New Clouds

White Rainbow
Kranky Records.

SCQ Rating: 77%

The only time I’ve spoken to Adam Forkner, aka White Rainbow, was after his opening set for Atlas Sound where he was promoting the 2007 release Prism of Eternal Now. After congratulating him on a brilliant set, which consisted of Forkner establishing a sound-collage one loop at a time before improvising over it, I asked him how ‘April 25th 11:14pm’ came about, Prism…’s centerpiece and my favourite cut. Without hesitation, he admitted the track emerged after he pressed record and started experimenting, borne of the same spontaneity that complimented his live show. The memory of that short conversation came rushing back to me when first hearing New Clouds, the massive new album that finds White Rainbow fully embracing wide-eyed, freeform explorations and, big surprise, thriving within them.

At four songs stretching almost seventy minutes long, New Clouds instantly steals the crown as Forkner’s most challenging release (think about it this way: if you buy the double-vinyl format, that’s one track for every flip of a record!). Sure, White Rainbow records have blurred limitations before; Zome’s title track was a twenty-minute odyssey and even Prism of Eternal Now, despite its more economic song lengths, still tested the CD format’s boundaries. Yet New Clouds represents a first in the White Rainbow discography, finding Forkner dedicated to his longform compositions and challenging himself to pack as many movements and dynamics into these aural ecosystems as possible. ‘Tuesday Rollers and Strollers’ is a sweltering overlap of laser-synths and steady glitches, gradually shedding its synthetic skin for natural percussion and hazy vocal chants. Keeping the haze machines working, ‘Major Spillage’ borrows the tribal beats of ‘Mystic Prism’ and matches them to radiant layers of ambience that Forkner himself might call “healing music”… even if the mood takes a somber nose-dive.

All of this is to say that nothing here sounds remotely like ‘April 25th 11:14pm’. Where that song exemplifies Prism of Eternal Now’s habit of surveying an aural space with slight modifications before abandoning ship, New Clouds filters countless song ideas into varied segments which transport the song to places far-removed from its starting point. Opening the record’s second half with its most propulsive track, ‘All the Boogies in the World’ grows from multi-dimensional beat-programming to employ White Rainbow’s signature vocal and psychedelic guitar work. And although ‘All the Boogies in the World’ climaxes around the eight-minute mark, Forkner turns the track on its head by smudging its anchor - a blunt, low-end key – into the primary catalyst for shimmering, piano-assisted breakdown. Ebbing into still-life ambience, the track shows no interest in recovering its quick tempo when ‘Monday Boogies Forward Forever’ follows accordingly with a rippling guitar over pillowed bass stutters, as if gently waking from the previous track’s excess-driven pass-out. In my experiences, New Clouds should be challenging because of its hefty expectations on listeners, not because its arsenal of ideas leave us desperate to keep up. Yet whatever odds White Rainbow seemed to being playing against on paper sound exquisite on record, routinely forcing listeners to backpeddle and pinpoint where precisely he turned the gears on us.

Still, an album of such epic proportions requires time-and-place considerations, like a wild hallucinatory mushroom you need to mentally prep for, and there will be occasions when this White Rainbow joint will be too cumbersome for your playlist-of-choice or your minute-by-minute attention span. I can assure you: its charms will keep you coming back. Strictly paced yet chocked full of surprising turns and subtle twists, New Clouds is ideal music for sky-watching as each track – whether fluffy or stormy – carries its own boatload of headphone-jacked excitement. Above all, Forkner manages to prevent a collection of twelve to twenty minute songs, each painstakingly detailed and arranged, from sounding over-the-top - a feat in and of itself. This ain’t no circus; this is still a unified ambient album. You can’t rearrange its tracks without sabotaging it and you can’t wear it out when the weather’s constantly changing.

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