V/A :: Europe (A Strangely Isolated Place)

Europe features 10 absolutely incredible works of ambient exploration. These pieces of music are very different from one another, though they all occupy the same emotional space as they traverse a wide array of traditional, ambient, and electronic landscapes.

V/A :: Europe (poster)

An outstanding compilation; Europe features 10 absolutely incredible works of ambient exploration. These pieces of music are very different from one another, though they all occupy the same emotional space as they traverse a wide array of traditional, ambient, and electronic landscapes. That being the case, I think it best to approach each of these pieces individually.

In “Home,” native Grecian Dalot explores a slowly-unfurling flower, each petal gently adding to the canvas that fills with layer upon layer of aural blues and whites. It’s a powerful opening piece of music, both peaceful and turbulent. It stands as a powerful opening statement to a tremendously varied record.

With “Rain Says” we have an exquisite combination of strings, piano, and synths, which are bolstered by field recordings of rain, which are arranged in such a way as to faintly imply percussion. The explorations of dissonance and arrhythmic patterns coupled with beautiful melody and complementary string sections creates an interesting counterpoint, ripe with tension, which is relieved when the rain takes over again. A simply gorgeous track.

“London” is a beautiful piece of contemporary classical music. The piano is so expressive in its simplicity, and conjures an image of cobbled London streets, awash in fresh rainwater, heeled boots splashing as the colorful Londoners make their way around their home city. The energy in “London” picks up unexpectedly, but maintains its trajectory as it once again dips into a calmer space. It is a lovely, albeit quick, piece of music.

Horizontal Excursions’ “Garajonay” is a cacophonously layered, melodically sophisticated, cascading stream of plucked strings. It is chaotic, but out of the chaos blooms a melodic consistency, which supports the rising, deeply layered string chords that ascend though it and wash the tune as a whole in waves of sonic whitewater. The tune as a whole ebbs and flows in and out of that chaos and peace, a sine-wave of its own in its progression.

Bjorn Rhode’s “Tour de Pyrénées” is another departure, though it also employs plucked strings. This time we have a heavily-reverbed and delayed nylon string guitar, masterfully played, with heavily modified vocal samples sliding in and out of the tune. There is an occasional interjection of heavy bass and percussive synths, but we return to the classical guitar time and again, which guides us to the end of the track.

The guitars return on “Andalucia,” this time mirroring the cacophony of “Garajonay.” The dramatic difference between plucked violins and guitars lives within the tinny, brass sound of the guitar strings. The metallic sound brings with it a high tension to the piece, and the controlled chaos is reminiscent of flamenco, additionally implied by the track’s title. An interesting, if not an actively changing track.

The energy recedes slightly with “Heaval.” Dextro also makes use of guitar, but the backing, panned strings make for a much mellower listening experience than the previous tune. Enter the drums, bringing the energy back up, originating somewhere on the continuum between post-rock and breaks. It feels deliberately constructed, and would be at home on stage with Sigur Rós as much as it fits with the rest of the tracks on Europe.

With “When the Last Ferry Left Helsingborg,” the energy barometer pitches downward, and we get a dose of ambient which fits excellently with the overall tone of the album, despite its difference from the preceding four tunes. Parks employs simple, quiet percussion, with subtle synths that form a very wide, and subdued image.

“Vakna,” by Carbon Based Lifeforms, is an exquisite treat. It boasts intense subtlety, though it is never completely silent. When its melodic theme arrives, supported by simple, but solid drums, the track feels complete. As the theme extends, the rest of the components of the track are boosted, and flourish as the energy climbs steadily. Simply put, it’s an excellently composed piece of music, both simple and sophisticated.

Finally, we come to the shores of Iceland, with Yagya’s “The North Shore,” a chill-techno production with its own interpretation of the widely rooted drone that accompanied so many other pieces of music on Europe. It’s a somewhat odd choice as a closing track to an album which, generally, is abstract and highly melodic. That said, it’s still a good tune, though I think Carbon Based Lifeforms’ “Vakna” would have better served as a closer.

It’s also noteworthy that Europe was pressed in an astonishingly gorgeous run of light blue vinyl, which any collector would have to find their way to acquire. Only 300 were pressed, so it may be difficult to come by, but it’d be worth it.

Europe is available on A Strangely Isolated Place.

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