Funny what gets tagged for popular comebacks these days-- post-punk and electro are the two flavors experiencing the strongest resurgence right now. Shoegazers have been pining for a new My Bloody Valentine album for the last ten years, even though the sound has never really gone away. Post-punk and electro come from roughly the same late-70s to early-80s time frame, so maybe shoegazer needs the crit-mandated two-decade span to rally behind a Loveless for the next generation. In the meantime, labels like Clairecords and Darla have been releasing a steady stream of paeans to pop noise. Darla's Bliss Out series, in particular, has been a vehicle for some high-quality excursions in fuzzy ambience.
...Or You Could Just Go Through Your Whole Life and Be Happy Anyway, the eighteenth volume of Bliss Out, is an essential release in the series, and it conjures all the appropriate environments: a wintry atmosphere, snow softly falling, the scene mirrored in the water as you watch from the lakeside hearth of your home. As Aarktica, Jon De Rosa programs melancholy dream-pop infused with layers of strings and shifting electronic beats. He's studied composition at NYU with Kenneth Valitsky, a former student of Stockhausen, and now does graduate work in the psychology of music. De Rosa's structural skills are reflected in these seven tracks, which play out with orchestral swells and symphonic attention to tone, but never come across as ornate or stuffy. The production blurs the elements together, touching on the dullness of the hibernal season, instead of just the glitter of the holidays.
"Aura Lee" builds from thrummed guitars and the pristine whish of a drum machine's hi-hat into one constant, rolling crescendo of timpani rumbling and backing vocals from Mahogany's Lorraine Lelis. De Rosa's got the voice you'd expect, soft and breathy-- somewhere between a sigh and a moan. His lyrics invite intimacy: "In winter time, to keep us warm/ I'll show you how the snow can harbor us from harm/ Trust will grow in blinding cold/ Double footsteps line the path toward growing old." The chorus, "sing to me, Aura Lee," would turn the title into a pun if the song wasn't so transcendent-- the ethereal romanticism is like an alternate-universe twist on "Manic Depression," in which the artist can finally caress and kiss the music.
These surreal moments of aural contact occur throughout: "You're Landlocked, My Love" traps you in a field of constantly shifting beats flickering violently between stereo channels. De Rosa's pulled an impressive trick here, placing what is essentially a folk ballad down amongst the electric mayhem. At the end even his own slow tone poem gets caught in the whirling textures, fading into a foghorn's groan, then cut up and pasted in abrupt, jarring passages. On the other bank, "Happy Again" finds you laid back against the shore and lazily tossing stones into a glassy pond. Each sublime guitar peal ripples outwards, echoing until time lapses, while the ebbing feedback drones on.
After the ambient stretches, De Rosa caps off the record in a more pop direction. "Nostalgia = Distortion" sets up a downtempo groove as De Rosa sings, "I can watch you for hours fishing your skull." You barely notice the transition to its companion piece, "The Hook, the Reel, and the Pull," four minutes of Cure'd reverb. The handclaps and the bell tolling on "Song for a Free Williamsburg" seem absurd at first, but the dance vibe moves even further towards delicious darkwave. De Rosa's vocals melt into different shades as the beats multiply.
The progressions in these forty-one minutes remind me of the Flying Saucer Attack songs that Matt Elliott worked on, as well as Amp's organic textures. The consistency of the music here creates a world unto its own. It'll churn in any season, like a snow globe.
-Christopher Dare, May 17th, 2002