Guitar wizard Oren Ambarchiâ€™s latest release Audience Of One is a masterpiece that truly lives up to its nameâ€”itâ€™s a hauntingly intimate experience, with a sonic versatility and emotional breadth that makes a personal connection with the listener. Thereâ€™s such a jarring contrast in styles that it may feel inconsistent at first, but on repeated listens, Iâ€™ve found that every song induces a unique kind of introspection that is lost if the album isnâ€™t experienced in its entirety.
It starts off with a moody, melancholy piece featuring Paul Duncan of weirdo synth-pop band Warm Ghost. â€śSaltâ€ť is a soft, ethereal tune with almost no trace of guitar, with the apparent intention of mollycoddling the listener, allowing you to wallow in your self-pity. The smooth synth tones feel like mellotron or vibraphone, just gentle, soothing reverberations.
This opening track accumulates emotional tension; the following track, the absolutely monolithic â€śKnotsâ€ť (epic just doesnâ€™t do it justice), is the cathartic release. I find the song title to be apt because, much like a foam roller zeros in on the knots of tension in your back and presses them out, this epic jam explores your innermost aesthetic or spiritual apprehensions and annihilates them. Itâ€™s propelled by a subtle, driving jazz beat from Joe Talias, a deceptively complex, steady ride-cymbal rhythm that makes me think of Tony Williamsâ€™ masterful drumming on Side A of Miles Davisâ€™ In A Silent Way. The subtle, tribal syncopation is enervating and awe-inspiring.
It is in this grand centerpiece of the album that Ambarchi most staunchly refuses a label as any sort of conventional â€śguitaristâ€ť. He employs a variety of sounds that are almost entirely removed from anything in the realm of guitar: there are abrasive, industrial washes of feedback; layers of incoherent, bubbling noise; and some eerie, cavernous droning. Though the arrangement is certainly non-linear, everything seems to flow logically, and when you hear one of the musicians shout in sheer ecstasy, it sounds like the only natural reaction to the experience. As the song fades, the sound refuses to die, and we are treated to a few minutes of writhing, sputtering electronic freakoutsâ€”it sounds like loops of the sound you get when you drop an amp on the ground and the coils inside start quivering.
Perhaps even more aptly titled is the following track, â€śPassages,â€ť in which Ambarchiâ€™s main contribution consists of Hammond organ and wine glasses, a mere ambient back drop to sparse,foggy contributions from sound artist crys cole [sic], vocalist Jessika Kenney, and pianist/violist Eyvind Kang. This brief Stars of the Lid-esque interlude further solidifies Ambarchiâ€™s place alongside other guitarists who explore the furthest boundaries of the instrument (and lack thereof), such as Keiji Haino or Loren Connors. But the experimentation is very restrained, and leads into the next song as a very logical, wellâ€¦ passage.
â€śFractured Mirrorâ€ť is a strange piece full of crystalline arpeggios, serene and distant, with a mellow 808 beat grounding it in a comforting, nostalgic mood. Itâ€™s a subdued rendition of a solo composition byâ€¦ yep, Ace Frehley. Rather than building to the cheesy-yet-majestic crescendo like the original does, it fades into a calm, hazy oblivion.
There, I made my way through the album for the umpteenth time, and still have found no way to discuss its merits except to narrate the experience of hearing the full album from start to finish. I think thatâ€™s very telling of this albumâ€™s appealâ€”either you will be drawn in (eventually, if not at first) by the profoundly resonant, introspective anthems, and youâ€™ll sit through the whole thing; or youâ€™ll feel lost in a disparate collage of sound, unable to get your bearings. Intrepid listeners can expect a great reward for their devotion.