After several EP's and digital download releases over the past years, New Yorker Brendon Moeller, originally hailing from South Africa and famous for his Beat Pharmacy moniker, decided to shape a former side project with the name of Echologist into a serious affair by releasing a Dub Ambient album with a parochial, yet fascinating focus: forming a surreally gloomy and vault-like atmosphere by marrying darkly modulated pulses and rough synth washes with dubby basslines and several layers of hissy hi-hats. The result is fittingly called Subterranean, and sure enough every sound and synth you hear on there is grim and dismal; however, the mood set by this album is neither sinister nor saturnine, but dark in the sense of remoteness and independence. It feels as though the listener isn't particularly invited to concentrate on the music itself rather than entering a dark world, as every of the 8 tunes is flowing into each other and delivers more of the same, fascinating quirks. Heck, I am not being fooled by Moeller! I know that the album consists of just one meandering track that is divided into 8 parts just for convenience's sake and because of our society's time limits and attention deficits. Hence, this is one of the albums that work so well because of the missing variety in regard to the overarching macrostructure. Each section slightly alters the ingredients by adding new synths or by amending existing modulations to better fit small changes in mood. The risk of this approach is, naturally, the possibility of the listener's defensiveness: since all tracks are constituents of a whole song, there is a chance that if one track puts the listener off, all remaining tracks will do so as well. The chance, though, lies in the artistic value and a relatively unique selling point, as only few artists take a crack at an epic project like this. So therefore, I'm really excited by the Echologist's result.


Subterranean is the title-giving first track of the album and starts with echoey hi-hats, a grim synth pulse of different dynamic range and deep basslines that are almost hidden from the listener's ears as they are perfectly camouflaged and cautiously set. The mentioned synth pulse is flowing throughout the track in a wave-like manner, creating a stir by quavering and being altered by a flanger. Sometimes, the flanger effect is used so magnanimously that the synth literally bursts and sounds like a cold wafting gust of wind. The track seemlessly flows into Slow Burn (Filter Dub), a tune with almost warm synth washes that rhythmically detumesce only to come back in full force. Again, the track uses the same tricks and textures as its predecessor does, but adds the aforementioned warmth to it that can be felt ever so slightly. The accompanying synth bursts that were already present in the Subterranean track, however, keep the warmth at distance due to their menacing undertones. Lunar Cycle carries the synths of Slow Burn over to a dripstone cave that is musically arranged by heavily reverberated synth droplets and increases both in tempo and crescendo as the droplets quickly fill the whole cave with their permanent presence. Deliberate is especially keen on different modulating speeds so the synths drift along slowly, but suddenly get bubbly and hectic again. Another interesting formulaic change appears on Swell (Modular Take) which has a Tech House or Deep House feel to it, but sans the mandatory bass drum. The modulation of the synths works deliciously well, as for the first time on this release, the synths are blurred to such an extent that they suddenly don't sound grim or repelling, but downright Detroit-like and relaxing for a few minutes, reminiscent to delicious Beat Pharmacy Dub tracks like Backwards Never off the album Wikkid Times. At the end of Swell (Modular Take), the tempo increases and the synths swirl faster and get less harmonious, shattering the formerly cozy Detroit mood. Junkyard starts bleepy and robotic and feels like a stripped down remix of every track run before it. In fact, the track features an intensifying, clanked percussion with the well-known ingredients entering the mix later than before. The last track, Creation, goes back to the familiar formula of modulated and looped synths, but this time introduces twisted cowbells which add a bustling feel to the track, again faintly similar to the Tech House or Microhouse genre and yet another hint to Moeller's Beat Pharmacy releases.


I don't know yet if Brendon Moeller has allocated his Echologist sobriquet to the described mood mentioned above, or if he reserves it for his approach of slicing any one track into several pieces, since this is his first full album under this name. I do know, however, that this formula works fantastically well. This album uses elements akin to Detroit Techno, Dub Techno and Ambient music, and yet sounds refreshingly alien, unintimate and distant, because what is considered the most important base of a techno track – the bass and kick drums – is out of order here. As with every album of a particular style and mood, the surroundings have to be right in order for it to work best. Hearing the typical synth modulation on any of its tracks sends a shiver down my spine, as Moeller's technique presses forcefully into your brain – this is meant as a compliment! Each track slightly alters the endemic formula by delivering a creative form of aural training, as you're becoming familiar with each ingredient. This is Ambient music for dark nights and you have to be in the right mood, for this is no encouraging fine-weather picnic, but an underground album by the nature of its title, a potentially disturbing work in terms of the listener's emotions and hence a successful coup de main.  



Further reading:

Brendon Moeller is on Twitter, uniting both his Echologist and Beat Pharmacy names with his Steadfast record label @brendonmoeller.




Ambient Review 014: Echologist – Subterranean (2011). Originally published on Dec. 18, 2011 at