Listening to Glimmer, the latest album from the Polish musician and composer Michal Jacaszek, taxonomy comes to mind. Like many of his fellow contributors to the recent SMM compilation, Jacaszek occupies a gray area between the world of composers and of makers of ambient music, a space a friend of mine once dubbed “Alex Ross-core.” Regardless of where he sits within the shifting boundaries of modern music, Glimmer is a strikingly nocturnal work by any standards. Its melodies are subdued, its sense of something looming in the darkness just outside our shelter deeply pronounced. Jacaszek is out to evoke both wonder and menace here, and it’s a largely successful effort.
Certain parts of Glimmer — “Dare/Gale,” for instance — occupy a cross-section of ambient and low-end worship similar to that of Nicolas Jaar. But Jacaszek’s stylistic approach is multi-faceted: Once you think you have him pegged as a Tim Hecker-esque purveyor of disintegrating melodies, a Kevin Martin-style acolyte of resonant frequencies, or an unexpected revivalist of the baroque, he’ll throw a twist in. It could be a segue from a brittle cascade of notes to something diffuse and rumbling, or from blissful ambiance to a precisely played melody that recalls past centuries.
“Evening Strains to be Time’s Vast” opens with a low rumble, woodwinds rustling as distortion slowly creeps in; eventually the piece shifts into a give-and-take between rival melodies. “Windhover,” which closes Glimmer, is perhaps the album’s most ambient section — a slow and steady buildup ushering in pinpoint moments of blissful brass, ultimately giving way to the quiet fading of the sound of a signal. It’s a beautiful conclusion that nonetheless plays out with great subtlety; you could lose track of exactly how it reaches its epiphany while still noticing specific choices in instrumentation, in dynamics, in progression.
It’s ultimately that give-and-take between Jacaszek’s command of dynamics and his fondness for subtle melodies that can frustrate. Though “frustrate” may not be the right word; rather, in assembling an album with one foot in the concert hall and one in the living room, some of the nuance of that work can evaporate. But largely, Jacaszek’s wedding of disparate styles pays off in Glimmer‘s evocation of certain moods and expert shifts from mode to mode.
By Tobias Carroll