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Amulets, "Blooming"

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No one can say that Randall Taylor is insufficiently committed to analog media, as the Portland-based tape wizard’s discography is teeming with cassettes released on a varied and international host of small labels.  This latest release is one of his infrequent high-profile appearances, however, so Blooming can reasonably be viewed as the proper follow-up to 2018's Between Distant and Remote.  In the interim, there were collaborations with Drowse and Midwife, both of which actually seem like closer stylistic brethren here than more purist tape projects like Tape Loop Orchestra (not always the case with Amulets).  The album's precarious balance of sludgy, "doom-gaze" power chords and blurred, dreamy tape loops sometimes errs too much on the "doom" side to land Blooming a spot in my personal pantheon of favorite Amulet releases, but I am sure my highly subjective weariness of metal is a factor in that.  That said, the line between "violent ambient" and "mannered, understated shoegaze-metal" is a blurry one and there is plenty that I love around that convergence.  In fact, the occasions when Taylor perfectly hits the mark ("Observer Effect," for example) are damn near spellbinding.  Also, it is quite impressive that Taylor has managed to make tape music so song-like and accessible that it could easily appeal to someone who has never heard of musique concrète.

The Flenser

Like many releases these days, Blooming was composed and recorded in isolation during the pandemic, which at least partially explains the album's darker-than-usual tone.  More specifically, however, it was inspired by the flowers that Taylor encountered during his daily springtime walks, which triggered some deeper thoughts about how "nothing lasts forever and everything is cyclical."  While Taylor is certainly not the first person to have that revelation, he is unusually good at applying that bittersweet wisdom to his art, as Blooming sustains a complex and shifting swirl of melancholy, decay, violence, fragility, and transcendent beauty for its entire duration.  "Observer Effect," for example, slowly fades in with warmly dreamlike drones, tender arpeggios, and field recordings of sloshing waves, but ultimately coheres into an elegiac-sounding chord progression beneath a looping and gorgeously anguished-sounding hook.  Elsewhere, "Collapse in Memory" is another triumph, as a warm sea of frayed and decaying loops gradually transforms into a considerably more heaving, violent, and stormy sea.  The following "Empty Tribute" is also a jewel, as smoldering smears of tortured loops mass over a backdrop of industrial clatter.  Even my not-favorite songs have their killer moments though, as the heartache reverie of "Tears in the Fabric" is beautifully ripped apart by an eruption of churning noise, while the closer "Whirl" offers a cathartic crescendo of looping howls.  In fact, I suspect that I would absolutely love this album if it was a bit less moodily brooding and a bit more gritty and hiss-soaked.  I do love Amulets in general, however, and can easily imagine that other fans of Taylor's work might view this as one of his most focused and powerful releases to date.  For me, it is a solid album with two or three sustained flashes of "career highlight" brilliance.

Samples can be found here.

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 April 2021 21:25  


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