Four decades after their debut, architects of American ambient brilliance are back with a platter of understated delights.
When Carl Weingarten titled his 2022 album "Stop Me Try" to seemingly defy his enemies’ expectations, hardly anyone could guess the guitarist’s next step would signal a backward progress – a devilish oxymoron that, in this case, doesn’t mean devolution – and a reunion of his erstwhile group whose third platter picks up where their sophomore record, “Any Questions?” from 1984, left off. Yet if “Elements Of Surprise” lives up to its tagline, the ensemble’s very name tentatively suggested such a turn of events all along so, with Walter Whitney and David Udell stepping into their slots too, the listener may sense the familiarity of sonic terrain – only there’s invigorating freshness to its well-tuned air.
From the chamber-cum-country-to-art-rock opener “Viola’s Ascent” on, the veterans’ instruments weave an ambience which makes many a note wear an aural disguise, as layered six-string figures and synthesizers’ waves, plus various electronic effects and Michael Manring’s fretless bass, envelope one’s ears to bring on soft, yet dynamically impressive, rapture and caress one’s psyche to pacify any inner demons that might lurk in the murk. The players never try to hide their own mystic gloom, though, letting it seep through the muscular and simmering, yet deceptively frivolous, twangy harmonies of “Shadow Of Berlin” and the percussively magnificent, theatrical techno of “Don’t Wake The Pharaoh” whereas the ethereal “Kalimba Lounge” marries pensive strum to the seductive roll of a slider and an effervescent shimmering of ivories, and the groovy “Idea3” swirls around an avant-garde-tinged axis.
However, “Fire Ceremony” majestically soars to heavenly heights – set against a rippling fiber of both natural and processed sort – before distilling its flight to a delicate lace and giving the glide of “Ever Unwinding” an expectancy-filled momentum, and “Acoustic Reprise” unfolds a pseudo-baroque tapestry to find peace of mind once again, and allow the finale of “Three Voices” display a bluesy alloy of the musicians’ individual manners that are molded into one solid-yet-vibrant melodic veneer. There can be more advanced deferral strategies, but these elements of surprise offer delay tactics of supreme class.