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Oren Ambarchi - Grapes from the Estate

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Artist: Oren Ambarchi

Album: Grapes from the Estate

Label: Touch

Review date: Aug. 2, 2004

This is a somewhat perplexing release from the usually excellent Ambarchi. It’s simplistic, even friendly. Mind you, the Touch imprint has a bit of history in putting out relatively user-friendly releases by otherwise gnarly musicians, including Ambarchi’s own Insulation from 1999 and Suspension from 2001, but I was still taken aback by Grapes From the Estate. As most of Ambarchi’s recent work has been with the likes of Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M, Fennesz, and Keith Rowe, I was expecting music as sparse as this but perhaps not quite so obviously tonal and familiar. This wine turned out to be much sweeter than anticipated.

He opens things up with “Corkscrew,” a slow-moving, hypnotic piece where Ambarchi’s electric guitars are highly processed and sound like pure computer tones; the piece evolves around lush, ringing fifths. Ambarchi has long experimented with the electric guitar, stripping it of all its rock and expressionist associations and treating it as a pure sound source (something he does quite brilliantly on Flypaper, his duet with Rowe, and on his drone duet with Johan Berthling, My Days Are Darker Than Your Nights, whose lush carpet of tones and loops might be seen as a predecessor for this release). In a sense, here he’s using the techniques acquired in more challenging situations to construct the electroacoustic equivalent of pop songs. Certainly the quasi-progression of “Girl with the Silver Eyes” justifies that description, despite its inclusion of the odd squeal and sine tone. For more of this, skip right to the sing-song “Remedios the Beauty” (good to see that Ambarchi has been reading his Gabriel Garcia Marquez, by the way) which is the most Fennesz-like track here. However, just as Ambarchi builds up these two middle tracks with their melodies and chord progressions (many built around multiple guitars, percussion, piano, and organ), the long finale “Stars Aligned, Webs Spun” returns to just electric guitars. The feel on this last track almost reminds me of Ben Monder’s “Propane Dream” filtered through one of Jim O’Rourke’s sunnier moments (or through some of the lovely melancholy of a Grails song).

All the songs loop on and on, seemingly infinitely, succeeding through the repetition of and simple elaboration on very basic sonic materials. There’s nothing particularly groundbreaking on Grapes From the Estate, but that’s not really the point either. Its patient incandescence is reward enough.

By Jason Bivins

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