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Peals - Walking Field

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Artist: Peals

Album: Walking Field

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Aug. 16, 2013

The ambient world is harder to navigate than you might expect. Strive for weightlessness too hard and the result might be altogether too ephemeral -- something that hangs like vapor, and makes as much of an impact. Go too far in the other direction and you’ll have something that might well be more gripping, but which leaps into another category altogether. Stars of the Lid are among the artists who have managed to (repeatedly) achieve a balance between the two; the same could be said about the contributors to Darla Records’ “Bliss Out” series. You might want to add Baltimore’s Peals to that category: if their self-titled album is any indication, they’ve found their own route toward music that’s tactile and fascinating while retaining a soothing transcendental core.

The subdued music heard on Peals’ debut comes from an unlikely duo. Bruce Willen previously played in the intense, conceptual hardcore band Double Dagger; William Cashion plays in the lush, mercurial Future Islands. After that initial doubletake, however, that pairing may make sense. Future Islands have, after all, had a penchant for textures that goes far beyond many of their contemporaries, and even some of Double Dagger’s music dabbled in drone territory -- consider the opening to “Vivre Sans Temps Mort.”

Peals are at their best when they’re content to find a beatific mood and take it to its logical conclusion. The pulsing “Believers,” which lends the album a contemplative touch as it draws to a close, comes to mind. This is late-night music for sprawling industrial landscapes, the kind of thing Loscil and the aforementioned Stars of the Lid do so well. Occasionally, the duo opts for a more literal approach: “Belle Air” abounds with the sound of wind chimes dueting with washes of guitar, while “Tiptoes in the Parlor” moves briskly, the music evoking the same motion its title does.

The more rock-oriented pieces here, “Lonestar” and “Blue Elvis,” both head ever-so-slightly into slowcore territory and don’t fare as well. Though they might be the album’s most propulsive components, they’re also the least interesting. Stronger are the intricate guitarwork of “Floating Leaf” and the more plaintive melodies of “Koan 1,” both of which split the difference between Peals’ propulsive musical history and their fondness for all things ambient here. Hearing the marriage of intricately played guitars to soothing atmospheres at times suggests that Peals’ members have borrowed a few notes from The Durutti Column’s playbook.

While Peals’ debut is fine ambient listening, careful listening reveals numerous styles and approaches being tried out. There’s a sense of play at work, and more than a little experimentation on display. As such, it’s along the lines that one might expect from any artist’s debut. It’s an album that covers a lot of ground without appearing to break a sweat.

By Tobias Carroll

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