Be My Friend In Exile
How Do You Love?






In a somewhat unusual twist, I am not going to tell you right at the beginning what this debut of London-based Miguel Gomes' latest moniker Be My Friend In Exile is all about. The five-track EP How Do You Love?, released on Somehow Recordings, must obviously be an Ambient release, for I wouldn't put it in this section if this weren't the case. But there's also a – to my mind – misleading press information that is attached to this project and that doesn't even tell you half of the distinct qualities this release encapsulates. This very text, of which I cite a minor section, begins as follows: "The human condition affects most. These songs act as a form of therapy, telling stories of falling asleep with the TV on and dreams of living in the mountains. An amalgamation of maudlin memories combining archived personal audio journals, field recordings, solemn guitar pickings, loops and sounds." Reading this sentence, you seem to instinctively know the particularities of this EP. Presumably, Gomes created a personal album (and who doesn't nowadays?) that is embedded in a dream-like context. Soporific synth washes, chirping birds, a bonfire guitar here and there, and off we go, right? If you only knew… Read on if you dare, that's all I'm saying for now.

Stalker is the pernicious gateway to a rather gloomy world. Starting off with a hazy, distantly ecclesial drone fuzziness that oscillates permanently between the stereo channels, the atmosphere is traversed by the tiniest fragments of clicks. The stereo panning effect is even greater on headphones. As it turns out, there are actually two distinct synth drones, each of them trying to destroy the scheme that the other wants to establish. This ambiguity is rarely heard in drone tracks, but the pulsating interplay between them is terrific … and terrifying. The bright cherubic heaviness of drone one is answered by drone two with a cavernous claustrophobia-evoking nastiness which is perfectly camouflaged by the relative similarity to drone one. This fascinating fight is paused by the icy high notes of an electric piano in the background, all the while a quavering metallic synth and a bone-crushing, abyssal gong are entering. Glacially glistening bells round off this masterful eerie track. I would love to call this a Dark Ambient track – and to be honest, it actually is – but the incisive glints and the sparkling bells are without a doubt crystalline devices that add brightness to the gloominess. Since their brightness never causes relaxation or peacefulness rather than uneasiness and fear, therefore boosting the impishness of Stalker, I give up and call this one of the best Dark Ambient tracks I've heard in a long time. No graveyard violins are heard, the only slight cliché is the gruesome deepness of the bell. But it is working. I'm being intimidated by the first track already.

Beneath The Eyes, A Cradle is next, and it starts the way Stalker ends. Freezing bells are swallowed by dusky drones, and metallic noises clang along to them. Silence and sound clash incessantly, and the reverberated sustain of the fragile bells is crushed by the enigmatic pulses of evil. Another dark track, but luckily not as evil as Stalker. The relatively short Ludus offers a much-needed moment of reflection and tranquility, though its melancholia isn't exactly helpful: rhythmically rising and falling synth washes are kept together by micro clicks and a weak scent of pink noise that flows throughout the track, creating a moiré through which the sound waves reach the ears. There is no dark element embedded, and yet again the brightness doesn't cause endorphins to go crazy. The opposite is the case, for the crestfallen palsy in form of the synths prevent any movement. Ludus is still life, a short vignette of a concentrated glimpse onto something. In contrast to all of Gomes' gathered tracks, this one could even be described as solemn and soothing. If you can stand the dolefulness, it's definitely lovely and eupeptic … in the given context, mind you.

</3 Even In Dreams sounds auspiciously like a change of formula, a rose-tinted ode to everlasting love, a feeling that keeps us alive and lets us face the dangerous threats of life. Yeeeah, right. Nothing could be farther from the truth, though danger and threat are fitting descriptions of the things ahead, as we move into Svarte Greiner-esque territory for the first time. Starting with high-pitched spectral figments, cautiously meandering foggy synth washes and frantic noises in the far distance, there is a strongly frightening addition to this track: the howling, distantly brutish screeches of a heavily filtered instrument, possibly a guitar. The synth washes increase in gloominess, causing severe tension that is further boosted by the non-repetitive guitar eruptions. The last two minutes of the tracks are much brighter. The guitar twangs peacefully in the background. This is the second truly terrific track after Stalker, and the inclusion of the guitar is a welcome, almost expected move. The final Pragma is a beast of over 8 minutes. Creating a feeling of wideness and distance, it launches with swamp-like curlicues, a monotonous foggy synth that moves even farther into the distance later, and a surprisingly hopeful guitar loop that carries the whole track and is the main attraction of the first half. After a short break, the second non-guitar part begins with much heavier foggy synths, but since they are still placed far in the background, their whirling swirls aren't too threatening. If this chaotic tempest was played on higher volume levels, though, it would become a maelstrom. The EP ends with a slow fade-out of these perilous weather conditions which seem to be similar to a whitewashing storm that washes away the hibernal gothic mood.

How Do You Love? fools the listener from the beginning till the end. I wasn't introduced to this work with one single word of warning, believing that it was all about a pleasantly auroral haze, maybe a pinch of mystique and shorter intersections of gloominess – its title suggested these expectations, damnit! That the omnipresence of spine-tingling horror is the main force of this EP, or worse, that this horror is masked by potential melancholia and the soothing blur of the drones wasn't on my horizon. I'm all the more blown away by the sheer cinematic quality of this release, despite the omission of orchestral instruments or creepy field recordings. The atmosphere is solely maintained and nurtured by synthetic washes, a few scattered pops and crackles and a filtered guitar on two tracks. As it is usual with debuts or new monikers, I am literally in the dark at the moment, pondering whether Be My Friend In Exile will continue this misty path to scary lands or whether the focus might shift into friendlier, mellower realms. The seeds for halcyon days already planted on this EP, as this is no sole calamitous angst-increasing release: Stalker specifically shows the ambiguously objective powers that are at work and fuel Gomes' music. The release is not entirely gloomy; it's the mixture of eruption, sustain and space that works so entirely well here. Gomes' latest project is one hell of a debut and highly recommended for fans of the aforementioned Svarte Greiner, Aphex Twin's dark skits on Selected Ambient Works Vol. II, Prosektor's Mors Omnia Solvit and numerous other artists. Dark Ambient lives on, and even if Gomes himself may be a bit puzzled by my genre categorization of his work, as this description is nowhere mentioned in the vicinity of How Do You Love?, there are more than a few reasons to firmly place his EP there. To call this just a Drone Ambient album isn't sufficient. It's too threatening, eerie and hazy.


Further listening:
You can listen to How Do You Love? on the Bandcamp Page of Be My Friend In Exile.




Ambient Review 080: Be My Friend In Exile – How Do You Love? (2012). Originally published on Jun. 6, 2012 at