STEVE ROACH & MICHAEL STEARNS: Beyond Earth & Sky (2021)
“Roach & Stearns surpasses expectations by delivering an album that exceeds my most audacious expectancies”
1 Horizon is Home 13:04
2 The Long Road 11:24
3 Impelled 11:48
4 Cloud of New Promise 7:04
5 Primal Return 7:38
6 Embracing the Infinite 8:39
7 Parable of Understanding 11:37
(CD/DDL 71:14) (V.F.)
(Tribal Ambient Electronic Folk)
Michael Stearns is definitely on the lips of the faithful followers of contemporary electronic music. A solid album with Erik Wollo in 2020, Convergence, an appearance at the last SoundQuest Fest 2021 and finally a collaboration album with the unique Steve Roach. Honestly, I was expecting something big, as I was expecting a slight disappointment as it is often the case when two geniuses meet. But nothing like that here! I also took the opportunity to listen to Kiva, the last collaboration between these two magnificent musicians. This album exploited good percussions effects, tribal as well as electronic, big Native American atmospheres, as well as intense atmospheric soundscapes. We find these ingredients on BEYOND EARTH & SKY, but in the right proportion and new perspectives for the term intensity to find a little more of its nobility here. Tie your ears to your headphones, although the production is perfect to face the spaces of my listening room, since the two American musicians have concocted a small masterpiece where we haven't the same visions of the deserts of the American West anymore.
It's with a sound light that the horizon rises in both universes of Steve Roach and Michael Stearns. Soft and warm, violins and cellos' layers stimulate its ascent. It's in this secret opening that Horizon is Home continues to amplify its musical structure. A vampiric bass line solidifies an ambient structure whose pastoral intensity stretches its final radiance until a superb tribal rhythm takes over our ears. Tribal percussion, percussive effects and a bass drum are sculpting an ancestral Native American rhythm that lives under a sky lit by sonic graffiti from synths which oppose their visions. A piano infiltrates this slow and heavy movement of passion after the 6th minute. Becoming more electronic folk than tribal ambient, Horizon is Home abounds with a divine musicality that traps our attention on a mesmerizing rhythmic canvas. The slow agony of the cello draws out these sighs from the soul that the piano releases with its discrete presence. The organic texture of the beats is unique in itself and is at the origin of The Long Road whose sparse beats and tinkling bells/bottles leave a fine resonant haze on its introduction. The rhythm that emerges is slower and when a chord falls with a bang, it is to excite this shamanic wave that whispers through a didgederoo. From this moment, the rhythmic texture of the track bursts with a panoply of percussive effects. The African trumpets try to give a second breath to The Long Road which remains anchored in the attractions of its percussive elements under a sky buzzing of musical fever. The second part proposes a more meditative phase that goes on growing up until its finale. We reach Impelled and no, the road of the rhythms is not yet finished! Its opening grows in intensity from percussive rumblings and sharp blue sound waves. And this outfit fragments like a particle that regenerates into a more jerky form...like a train rolling towards the American West. Built on a fascinating mesh of tribal percussions, bass-pulses and sequences, this rhythm is frenetic and frantic. Obviously prismatic elements stick to this flight for the least surprising coming from the tandem Roach & Stearns. Moreover, we are able to hear the texture of this rhythm when it slows down to meet another train that crosses it around the 5th minute. This meeting takes place under a sky of an intensity filled with layers of a pastoral organ. The echo of this train and the reverberating crumbs furnish the ambiences of a percussive stratagem that has us nailed to our seats. And yes, the organic fauna breathing does us good until the finale of Impelled.
A guitar lays its notes on a bold mist at the opening of Cloud of New Promise. The rise of this dense mist and its slow movements bring us back to that wonderful period of Western Spaces. After this beautiful ambient and meditative moment, Primal Return decides to stay there and exploit these shamanic rhythms of the time, with today's technology. The first spurts of the synth are an azure blue which turns into drones as the ambient, haunting rhythm sets its base. A tenebrous pace which beats under a dark sky filled of muted breaths and of didgeridoo whispers and which embraces the curves of drones floating in darkness. The tribal rhythm is threatened by muted incantations as keyboard riffs fall, creating fiery blue firebrands in a darkness cracked by a synth which throws up filaments of apocalyptic nights while building a wall of voices where the older ones' voices croon. A little more and it is me who drank this shamanic Amerindian potion where I fly like an eagle in the darkness. A journey that crosses the 6-minute mark where afterwards, Primal Return floats on the wings of silence. Intense and captivating when played in open air, without headphones. In my humble opinion, Embracing the Infinite is BEYOND EARTH & SKY's most beautiful track. Yet, its envelope is draped with a dense and dark haze. And it is under it that opalescent chords decided to carve an incredible spectral melody to give goosebumps. It's like hearing a melodious passage from M'Ocean but played backwards. Also to be classified in Structures from Silence. The introduction of Parable of Understanding is as much pushed by the winds of the US Western deserts than the finale of Embracing the Infinite. A serene opening where flutes compete with azure winds that lightly make tinkle various chimes. A synth layer injects a dose of intensity into this ambient movement some 30 seconds into its 4th minute, giving a brightness effect that translates into the slow arrival of another layer that awakens a thunder of percussions 2 minutes later. This atmospheric rumbling rages on for barely 60 seconds before the tranquility of the desert and of these chants launched by the winds going around or piercing cactus and rocks come back to haunt the last moments of an album that seals the reunion of 2 pioneers of the Pacific School.
Grandiose! Steve Roach and Michael Stearns surpass expectations by delivering an album that exceeds my most audacious expectancies. BEYOND EARTH & SKY is a superb, seamless album that strikes the right balance between ambient, tribal ambient, electronic folk and frenetic beats. At no time on this splendid 71 minutes long album, we feel the two musicians lacking breath or inspiration. Everything is perfectly balanced for the pleasure of our emotions and our expectations that just didn't anticipate such a spectacular album.
Sylvain Lupari (November 2nd, 2021) *****
Available at Projekt Records Bandcamp