The inconspicuously titled Untitled (2004) is one of literally dozens over dozens of Untitled albums by the Madrid-based field recording artist and sound wave explorer Francisco López. All of these albums – of which I've just heard five at time of writing this review – are all about drones and environmental noise. My favorite remains Untitled (2004) which, despite its name, was first released in 2006 in a strictly limited edition of 1000 copies. And boy, is it a tremendously dark and eerie album that is, and now it's getting weird, soothing and immersive. The nine untitled but numbered tracks are absolutely stunning, tuck you in, capture this moment and let you drown afterwards. Although few of the tracks depict much more than a mechanic, radiator-like machine sound, the released drones are exciting and, now it's getting yet again crazy, quite catchy, hooking and ever-changing, killing any scent of boredom immediately. A deep analysis of each track is rather unnecessary and counterproductive at the first glance, for machine drones are rather monotonous; but not when they are carefully chosen, set up and filtered through López's skills. It is more than a bit entertaining to guess both the origins of a certain sound and their tonal similarities to completely different things, machines, shapes or figments. Even the slightest alterations are perceptible and surprising. It's one of those special albums that might alienate even devoted Drone fans, but I'm thankful to grasp the album's overarching beauty, for things could've turned out differently. Without further ado, here's what awaits the listener in one of the darkest Ambient albums ever created.
Untitled #168 fades in slowly and introduces abyssal, earth-shaking bass drones that sound as intimidating on headphones as they do in a subwoofer-equipped home cinema. The atmosphere is that of a deep vault, and the dubby bass eruptions should be more than a bit intriguing for fans of Jurassic Park. A permanent pink noise-like haze lies like a veil over the track that becomes intense from the middle section onwards. Loops of wind gusts and a frightening four-note motif of horror are interwoven, but neither do they take over, nor do they distract from the chilly entanglement of windy drones. The listener is right in the center of a storm, and once dragonfly-esque staccato rotors clang through the air, the pressure increases to the maximum. But then, all of a sudden – and never was this common idiom more true than on this track – the noises stop abruptly, making room for quiescent winds in the far distance. What a gorgeous and lively opener, not the least bit boring and with a clear story arch that is atypical for Drone music in general and López's related tracks in particular (in contrast to his nature field recordings). Untitled #166 is next and depicts another eerie setting in the vicinity of a large machine, keeping the variety alive. Bumblebee buzzes, probably muffled human voices, are intermixed with bustling clangs akin to railways or bowling alleys. Flowing water floats along, decreases and comes back eventually, while the clanging sounds start to reverberate, stop abruptly only to return more thunderous than before. The plasticity of this track is awesome, the interplay of quiet pauses and fulminant eruptions scary. The formerly clanging pulses later turn into intimidating machine drones with added cascades, before the track ends from one second to the other.
While Untitled #161 presents far away storms and a rhythmic sound that is similar to either a sharp saw, a snoring beast or a breathing monster, causing my imagination to go crazy due to the apocalyptic gloom, the almost 20 minutes long Untitled #163 (For Pierre Schaeffer) depicts a heroic journey through various phases of glacial coldness, gurgling water, stormy landscapes, ancient caves and mechanic splutters. The most frightening element, to my mind, is the creepy mist that floats along, as it isn't purely machine-like, but seems to oscillate, resulting in incidental pulses that resemble the tonal quality of arcane mystique. When the track later switches into incisively threatening dragon screams and fizzling steam machines, the tension is almost unbearable. A long, ever-changing monster of an Ambient tune. Untitled #171 is an especially interesting tune, because depending on your equipment and your surroundings, you either won't hear a thing or you'll encounter one of the deepest low-frequency drones an artist has ever unleashed! Everything's shaking on higher volume levels, and even though this track doesn't contain anything else, it is an intimidating show-stopper due to the elemental force of these deepest audio waves. Untitled #161 returns into icy lands with multiple layers of howling winds or machine engines, rapid-firing pops and crackles and a visit into a factory full of ubiquitous white noise drones.
The ten minutes long Untitled #165 could almost be a field recording of pouring rain, but the sounds seem to sizzle and sparkle like an olive-oil filled pan on a stove. Pitch-black bass drones traverse the scenery once again, causing the constant feeling of danger. Spectral metallic figments and spacey effects merge later on, making this the most tripped-out composition of the whole album. The noise level is increasing permanently, and what was once a frizzling pan is now a symphonic crescendo of galactic drones. The short Untitled #159 is a rather unexciting and non-frightening white noise track with glimpses of ephemeral media artifacts such as running televisions next to incomprehensible chit-chat and the majestic drone of airplanes passing by. The final Untitled #154 is an effervescently pumping and grim outro where López glues together several Speed Metal sections of the Swiss band Knut. Although their performance isn't scary at all and probably disappointing in comparison to the preceding material that was delivered on Untitled (2004), it is a positively weird conclusion of López's darkest album.
No birds, no field recordings, no nature-driven beauty. Untitled (2004) is a ghostly album, always on the brink of scaring the listener with both an increase of the drone layers and the volume level. The various flavors of noise, eruptions and clangs are breathtaking, and the album works best when the listener seems to recognize the source of a noise, but cannot be too sure about its origin anyway. The multiple textures are varied and changing despite their mechanic traits. Not one single track gets boring, as each of them is either divided into different phases with clear structures or a construction of meandering elements that traverse from point A to destination B. There are no melodies to be found except in the final track. But the mood is nonetheless terrific, as López depicts dark cavernous vaults, blurry veils of haze and enigmatic machines of evil in a pitch-perfect and unique fashion. This is highly sophisticated music that demands quite a lot of the listener, though its nucleus is, I believe, accessible and easy to grasp; the listener must be willed to listen to coalescing and interacting machine sounds, though. This is not a given, for many a Drone listener might be put off by this dark work of art. If this is the case, all is not lost, as López has gazillions of tracks to offer that might suit the needs of the respective listener better. Take Untitled (2005) into account, for instance, which presents very long and unique field recordings that were taken near the Amazon and show a time lapse of several hours. Fans of Dark Ambient and ghastly settings will be happy with Untitled (2004). It's my favorite López release, even though I am no expert, as I don't even know 1% of his output. But from what I've heard so far, Untitled (2004) suits my needs best. It's eerie and menacing, but somehow soothing and welcoming. A very important release.
Ambient Review 095: Francisco López – Untitled (2004) (2006). Originally published on Jul. 18, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.