Thom Brennan






In the vast list of Ambient albums that transcode nature or related elements and phenomena into synthesizer-driven soundscapes, Mist by Thom Brennan is an entry that combines the majesty of a Pacific forest with the foggy haziness of a whitewashing veil. Brennan is one of the synth maestros you can count on: each of his albums offers lavish layers of dark drones and cherubic sustains in a 100% electronic, beatless surrounding. The four tracks on Mist float and meander slowly, swell up and fall down. There is no distinct climax or highpoint that seems to be a fitting conclusion in any of the tracks, let alone a particular attribute or specific sound that is only used on one track only. Mist could well be one single track that is divided into four parts for convenience only. Curiously enough, this is the selling point of Brennan's style because flowing music is by its very definition organic, presumably contingent and always soporific. This makes it hard to distill the little peculiarities of each fabrication … and is a good indicator for real Ambient music that relies on providing a mesmerizing sound carpet in the background rather than on the jocular hecticness of other Ambient styles. Still, it's worth paying attention. Read more about the distinct qualities and apparent shortcomings of Mist below.

Raingardens is the 17 minutes long gateway to the world of Mist and is, all in all, an intimidatingly heavy and deep example of Brennan's music. But first, brightly-lit angelic synth washes are introduced simultaneously with faux field recordings of various birds, crickets and insects. While this ethereal mood is maintained, darker rumbling drones flow into the mix, causing solemn majesty while providing a glimpse of darker things. And indeed, the song continues in minor despite its wind chimes, chirping birds and beatless frame. After five minutes, quavering drones enter, and it is only due to their integration into the other multiple textures that their baneful eschatological pompousness is tamed. The last four minutes contain less glaring synths by lowering the overall volume. It is then when hazy, almost machine-like drones put the focus away from the garden setting. There are even occasional laser sounds interwoven before the song fades out. Naturally, fans of Thom Brennan knew beforehand what to expect, but this very deep Ambient track might be a surprising revelation so some: this is vintage synthesizer-driven Ambient music in the truest sense of the term.

Pond Life, via its track title alone, promises a narrower field of vision with an intimate glance at the aquatic side of these forests. Foggy, quiet synth strings and echoey clicks provide a wideness, while darker strings and their serene counterparts create a feeling of arcane mystique that is traversed by distant birds. While the song fails in creating a clichéd Ambient vignette of a pond, it succeeds in reducing the heaviness a little bit. Considering Brennan's complete works, this is one of the cozier tunes, especially in terms of the track's second part that begins roughly around the six-minute mark where the encapsulating thickness of the strings is reduced further, resulting in a thinner, more quiescent sound with brightly-lit synth strings and icy bird cries. Pond Life stays true to Brennan's formulaic concept, and yet surprises with a less pompous, more fragile and varied presentation.

Cedars Stand Against The Rain doesn't offer anything new or particularly strange at first; it harks back to the first track with the same flora and fauna, pristine wind chimes and dark synth drones. The amount of layers has increased again, creating a cocktail of ethereal heaviness with glints of menace and gloominess. While the song really doesn't enhance the topic of the album, the last three and a half minutes offer the interesting change I was hoping for: terrifically hazy synth layers morph into a fog of purity and grace with the right amount of layers, volume and dreaminess. A great conclusion of a Brennan song by the numbers. Mist has already been mentioned by me in this review, although in a covered, implicit way – it is yet again a typical Brennan song that doesn't offer anything new, but insists on the same patterns of upswell and downfall, wind chimes and mystical clicks while reverberation hints at the enormous wideness of the created space. A missed chance, I believe, because fog, haze and, well, mist altogether have a fragility and beauty that needn't be transformed into overly thick and loud layers.

Mist is a two-sided sword, I'll be honest. It is utterly coherent and a true Ambient album that can run in the background without doing any harm by distracting the listener from the task that is to be done. By paying attention though, the album rewards with pulsating, oscillating and meandering synth washes that flow in and float out incessantly. Brennan knows how to create heaviness, and he also knows when to mute certain layers or to let them fade out slowly. In this regard, Mist is as successful as his other albums, Vibrant Water or Silver, for instance. However, the genre has in the meantime grown into a very large field, so I cannot deny that Brennan's retrograde approach might bore the hell out of a new generation of Ambient fans or even scare them away due to its deepness. I also question the division into four titled tracks because they sound too alike. Mist is best viewed as a single track then. A very long, repetitive track that will teach our hyper-active society a thing or two about patience and concentration. I for one cannot listen to a Brennan album in one go, since I lack the skill, will or intelligence, I'm afraid. But at times, the listener-swallowing heaviness works marvelous at the right time, in the appropriate dose. Due to my listening habits, I might destroy the buildup and the aura of Mist, true, but it is the only way to fend off time-related limits while still enjoying his work. This album is for die-hard synthesizer fans with lots of patience and a love for mystical, rather dark and multilayered Ambient music that lives, breathes and pulsates, but is otherwise terrifically (or terribly?) consistent.




Ambient Review 070: Thom Brennan – Mist (2000). Originally published on May 16, 2012 at