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Landing - Passages Through

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Artist: Landing

Album: Passages Through

Label: K

Review date: Jul. 16, 2003

Contemplation-Core for the Spiritually Starved

If the lighter side of Spacemen 3 was about a blissful transcendence, and the heavier half considered a seemingly heroic grappling with demons, the listener is left to wonder what might have happened if the band had ever dealt with more mundane themes. This dichotomy between the extremes of light and dark is present in both the band’s lyrical content and the accompanying music. It couldn’t have helped that Spacemen 3 seemed to have taken a cue from the mythology of the Velvet Underground and the Loaded title of their last album. One speculates as to whether mere melancholia and optimism were ever considered valuable subject material to a band that seemed in chronic sway between physical ecstasy (if very fleeting) and spiritual calamity.

Many of the characteristic traits of Spacemen 3 are at play in Passages Through, particularly the disorienting departures from melody, the lone and wandering plucked guitar identified against the wash of engulfing sound, the wide-eyed consideration of the unknown, and a considerable knack for turning the act of listening into one of contemplation. Landing, however, have only taken cues from the Spacemen and refrained from mimicking the band’s sound. It is this comfortable ability to touch upon aspects of influence and to interpret the elements as part of a unique, creative voice that makes Landing an exceptional experience.

Optimism, then, would seem to be a defining motif of Landing’s sound, which is particularly apparent on this record. Not at the expense of sadness, mind you, which is also delivered in large quantities. Grief plays a large role, as each song opens with a somber setup that ultimately leads to a small piece of hope. Occasionally, as in “Close Your Eyes Slowly,” the record presents an extended passage of bliss that acts as an end in itself. This movement toward, and embracement of, the sensually positive is emblematic of Passages Through.

Nearly every song on this record floats in on a delicate, guitar melody – the style doesn’t demand attention as much as it asks for cooperation. Listening to this record is less important than feeling it. Basic melodies are engulfed by washes of synthesized sound and the faintest touches of percussive accompaniment. You’ll hear Tangerine Dream and Cocteau Twins, but also, occasionally, the softest side of Modest Mouse. It’s very emotionally captivating stuff, as each song posits its sober melody only to eventually offer a bridge – or occasionally a complete excursion – of optimistic relief from the melancholic tones. Passages Through is a kind of conversional music, and you might feel a little better about the world around you after hearing it.

Landing’s previous handful of releases – most falling between five and seven songs, with last year’s Seasons being the most definitive long player – explored a sort of slow-core sound that moved from noise toward dreamy soundscapes held tenuously together by traditional pop song structures. Passages Through eases into a more spacious format, allowing itself more room to explore ambient excursions that are mostly flanked by spare melodies. That K Records has chosen to release this album is intriguing. While the dreamy meanderings of “Breathing,” a 14-minute track that wanders way beyond rock territory into droning ambience, venture into territory explored by the Microphones, there is a definite polish to Landing that sets it apart from the willfully raw music that has always characterized K’s roster.

The threat, of course, when dealing with lyrics, tone and song that values calm over drama, is that the music may end up a bore. Approaching this record in an anxious mood will make Passages Through a difficult test, but patience and contemplation will reap rewards. It’s not exciting music, but it is emotionally stirring.

By Cory O'Malley

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