In Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker, there is a place called the Zone. The Zone is a dangerous yet miraculous place. The Stalker who routinely guides people to the zone has nearly every aspect of his life ruined, from his relationships, his financial situation, his daughter who is deformed, and even the people he guides questions his motivations. After all the Zone is an uninhabitable place filled with unimaginable horrors; any wrong step can cause a person to burst into flame, have cardiac arrest, or to just simply just disappear.
The place the Stalker guides these men to is the room where once entered can cause all of your deepest desires to come true. Yet we hear a story in the beginning of a Stalker who decided to enter the room, and months later after he entered it, he committed suicide.
So why bring this up on an album review? The reason is simple. Every artist–for some odd reason–enters the Zone. The place of creativity, of self expression, of individualism; and like the Stalker we are drawn to it. Even if it costs our relationships, finances, and self esteem. After all, there’s a reason for all the VH1 Behind the music specials, being an artist is not easy. This album itself is a microcosm of being an artist, and creates the sonic equivalent of being in the Zone. It is an album of unbridled creativity, and fearlessness–and in that fearlessness we get closer to why we make music in the first place.
Take the first track for example, Xqui x Radio Europa – Impotus. Which is an excellent opener, for it sets the stage, that this album is an exploration of the unknown–of new musical frontiers. The pad swirls around in an ethereal tone as it builds upon itself–adding more and more anxiety–only to be interrupted by a kick drum. Then as the pads return, and in that return we hear the ambient noises of what sounds like the breathing of a great monster, and the wails of lost souls.
Another facet of this album that has to be explored is that the soundscape in this album sounds at times incredibly synthetic, and incredibly orgainic. Take the synthetic music of Tich for example; a track that has an almost EDM/dubstep kind of feel, yet still somehow maintains that thick sense of ambience. Yet tracks on this album can sound incredibly organic. So organic, in fact, that it sounds like you’re more listening to a living breathing creature than an ambient album. Take 0208e the deep reverbed ambience in the background as before, sounds like you’re in the belly of some great beast. The only interruption from this ambience comes from a synth that floats above the rest of the sound–like an electronic cicada– while a sampled voice that states, “To touch the face of God.”
Which brings me to my next point. While listening to this album there is a sense of unease, while at the same time an incredible sense of beauty. The track that best exemplifies this is Epiphany whose amazing choir is interrupted by this dirty sounding electronic noise–like a radio’s last transmission before it dies–and these borderline tribal sounding percussion. It’s this sense of unease, and heavenly sounds that calls to mind Penderecki, who if you don’t know made songs like this.
Now why would someone make a song that terrifying about God? It’s not blasphemous, rather it presents God as an unknowable, unimaginable, entity, and as a result we feel anxious as a listener. For every artist deals with the unknown, the ethereal, and the strange. It’s human nature to label something, and to give it meaning. Then when we’re unable to quantify something, to stick a label to it, or give it meaning–it causes a great deal of anxiety.
Penderecki understood that being avant-garde all the time, is entertaining for about 10 minutes, but it’s not something to build an entire concert on. So he would often have pieces of music that for highly avant garde followed by music that was highly conventional. In doing so he created music that you could listen to at a concert.
Xqui does the exact same thing with songs like Deathbed, that starts off avant-garde, then transforms with these wonderful lullaby like vocals. With creates a comforting atmosphere, gives the audience room to breathe, and allows the track to explore different types of sonic textures. While the lyrics, “I died in your bed,” adds a melancholy layer to the track, it’s familiar enough to anchor the listener to something knowable. Which shows not only Xqui’s ability to craft conventional songs, but also how they can use, what appears to be a normal song, to still be avant-garde.
Finally when we get to Valley it starts off with this innocent sounding flutes, but then devolves into something more unknown, and therefore more terrifying. What sounds like animals screaming, with a vicious synth in the background, while a choir sings an ethereal song in the background, all while the flute loses all of it’s original form, and becomes borderline atonal. A perfect ending to an amazing ambient albums that defies expectations, and creates an entirely new world.
What I appreciated the most while listening to this album was how fearless Xqui was willing to express themselves. Most creative people are able to enter the Zone as mentioned, previously before, but few are willing to go that extra step. That step, that separates the trappings conventional music into full self expression. Instead of the story of the Stalker who killed himself for finally entering the room, here we see in this album an artist who succeeds in expressing themselves, and is able to stand tall in the sea of musical stagnation. And for that Xqui should be applauded.
I give this creative whirlwind of a ride, my full-hearted recc.