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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Lupari

Brendan Pollard The Zone of Malleable Fears (2023)

There's a right balance between the very Berliner rhythms and the dark ambient phases

1 Levada - The Traveller 3:49

2 Probe 2:22

3 Institute of Shift and Validation 8:56

4 The Zone of Malleable Fears 3:31

5 Voids of Intuition 3:01

6 Steel Blue Sphere 3:33

7 Sol 173 3:10

8 Venture to the Circles 9:41

9 Ocean of Time 3:25

10 The Cavern of Extractions and Utilities 2:58

11 Scanner Rate 6:34

12 Burning Sun 3:29

13 Deflection Mode 6:45

14 Arrival at the Arc of Vermilion 5:17

(CD/DDL 66:37) (V.F.)

(Berlin School, Dark Ambient)

Hum! A Brendan Pollard album consisting of 14 tracks averaging around 5 minutes in length? THE ZONE OF MALLEABLE FEARS features electronic music (EM) composed over the last 2 years, but inspired by a storyboard Brendan created a few years ago following a heartbreaking - and ultimately happy - decision concerning his 92-year-old mother. Short tracks, some of them very short, where electronic rock and Berlin School mix their roots and influences through a flock of dark ambient tracks. We're mainly in a mosaic of film music, with influences from Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze snaking through a well-structured EM for such concise tracks. We are in the heart of the vintage years, with a hint of the early 80's.

Levada - The Traveller begins this mosaic of EM with a bouncy rhythm. A rhythm whose zigzagging modulations give it the effect of cavorting through an elegiac woodland where flute tunes blow. Keyboard chords fall and mini synth refrains roll in loops in this setting that fills with the mythical haze typical of Tangerine Dream works from the Baumann and Schmoelling years. The music here, and in some other tracks on the album, seems to be very much inspired by albums such as Thief, Flashpoint and Wavelength by the famous German trio. More complete in terms of harmonic rhythm, Scanner Rate is molded in the same essences and is one of the best tracks on the British synthesist's new album. Probe is the first of the half-dozen tracks of murky, dark ambient music that criss-cross the 14 musical stories on THE ZONE OF MALLEABLE FEARS. Its essence is very obscure, with droning waves sailing in linear motion. Sound effects add a cinematic spectral dimension to the music. Intriguing fog, puffs of white noises and layers of vampiric organ are among the elements that adorn the slow, 3-minute-plus, opening of Institute of Shift and Validation. The chorus is gothic and chthonian in inspiration, with sonic elements that sound very Klaus Schulze from the days of Stardancer on the Body Love album. A pulsating rhythm emerges from the organ's vibrations. It runs with slight sideways inflections under a layer of chthonian voices and some Arabian tunes floating in a vaporous essence. The synth unleashes catchy mini refrains. They roll in loops over this structure that doubles its rhythmic impact with the addition of a line of glittering arpeggios. It hops along in its own shadow, developing a harmonic symbiosis with the flow of the sequencer, which begins to dribble bass sequences that lead the track to a finale with a more sober rhythm. The title track takes us back into a more ambient sphere, with winds, mechanical frictions and hums forming a compact sound mass akin to space shuttle engines. The sensation of emptiness, of floating in the hollow of the universe, is very present in The Zone of Malleable Fears. The same can be said of Voids of Intuition, with its dark layers, reverberating emanations and shimmering chords. Steel Blue Sphere is another of the album's gems. Repetitive, its rhythm describes circular axes on suites of 8 sequencer chords that zigzag beneath a mass of ambient drones and of gothic haze. The vibratory resonance effect of these juicy, resonant sequences breathes a chthonian air that suits the synthesizer's apocalyptic trumpet harmonies. It's very 70's TD! It's good old Berlin School! This sequencer tone resonates in the slow rhythm of Sol 173. These sequences are clothed in light and shadow in a slow procession of which the tonal intensity evolves under a haze of orchestral drizzle and of stylized synth airs with a delicate bouquet of medieval flute.

The longest track on THE ZONE OF MALLEABLE FEARS, Venture to the Circles evolves in phases, rather like Institute of Shift and Validation. Hollow breezes, Schulze-like electronic effects, reverberating drones and a layer of elegiac mellotron make up its slow opening, which ends with a string of luminescent sequences 30 seconds into the 3rd minute. A bass shadow supports the fluidity of the fluttering movement, and the rhythm develops through 3 elements, including a looping ball of keyboard riffs. It comes and goes, in a form of cha-cha-cha tinted with shadow, under this string of glittering arpeggios that begins to follow an ascending musical tangent. The synth multiplies haze and discreet solos, as do those trumpet-like tunes heralding the end of the world. And the finale features the nostalgic air of a flute. Two elements that enchanted our senses in the 70's. Ocean of Time is another passage of dark ambience, with droning, guttural vocals complementing a distant, evasive melody. The Cavern of Extractions and Utilities remains in the same genre. Its hollow winds undulate with a tremolo, with a quavering effect in their droning voices. After the short but superb Scanner Rate, Burning Sun takes us back into the spheres of Dark Ambient with drones that are accompanied this time by the aerial screeching of some metallic blue synth shadows. After a long, twisted filament gnawed by a radioactive humming wave, Deflection Mode bursts forth with a delicious structure of melodious rhythm worthy of a John Carpenter film. Sonic spirographs drawing distorted arabesques accompany this diabolical, ascending lullaby, where some excellent synth solos tie in. Some are even theatrically dramatic. Double pulses and a second sequencer line, which makes swiftly flickers its jumping chords, add depth to this hypnotic rhythm that maintains its growth under an avalanche of solos, some of which manage to titillate our emotions. Continuing this approach where specters lurk in secret, the track ends its rhythmic procession under a storm of white noises. This flickering sequencer movement forms the basis of Arrival at the Arc of Vermilion's ambient rhythm. Ascending, its movement is slow and needs the presence of low sequences that accentuate the modulations, some of which have a dramatic texture, and maintain its cadence beneath an imposing sheet of gothic fog where a certain ghostly presence lurks.

Just because the tracks are short doesn't mean that Brendan Pollard's EM remains uninteresting! Different because of these short structures rather than the long musical novels typical of his earlier works, THE ZONE OF MALLEABLE FEARS takes us on a journey through the feeling of a range of emotions that connects us with the reality of this storyboard by the English musician-synthesist. There's a right balance between the very Berliner rhythms and the dark ambient phases that at times teeter between the author's dismay and the dark gothic worlds of the vintage years. This beautiful album is available on CD (300 copies) and as a download on Brendan Pollard's Bandcamp site.

Sylvain Lupari (June 6th, 2023) *****

Available at Brendan Pollard Bandcamp

(NB: Texts in blue are links you can click on)

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