Tropic Of Coldness
Commuting EP






It's gemstone time – and at the time of writing, the gems are distributed for free! The five-track Commuting EP by the Brussels-based American-Italian duo David and Giovanni aka Tropic Of Coldness can be downloaded at their Bandcamp page at no cost. And believe me, this EP is totally worth your time and affection, although as with every work of art, it is not made for everyone, not even for every Ambient listener, but more about this later. The five tracks were created and mixed between January and March 2012, also known as the chilly season. This EP might be the debut of Tropic Of Coldness, but both musicians have already collected more than a bit of experience in other projects: David's moniker Drawing Virtual Gardens meshes guitars with electronic devices, and Giovanni is part of an Italian band called Fuji Apple Worship that focuses on the minimal side of the electronic genre. If you take the band name Tropic Of Coldness into account, you might suspect a Glitch release of the coldest order, but this assumption would be wrong: the majority of the duo's songs relies on synergies and contradictory ingredients. The results are beautiful, soothing and solemn, but it's hard to pinpoint the specific mood of each track. Anyway, I am trying just that in the following paragraphs. To be more precise in advance, Tropic Of Coldness mix fragments and stylistic particles of the Glitch, Dark Ambient and Drone genres, but the results are neither of the three, and that's what's so intriguing about their EP. Guitars and electronic sparks are intertwined, and the result is always compelling for those Ambient listeners who are trained in deciphering multiple layers and looking forward to glimpse onto texturized, pulsating synthscapes. The band describes their approach in this regard as "acoustic archaeology," and the deeper the listener submerges, the fuller he or she is encapsulated and enchanted by the microscopic nature and the ever-changing nucleus of each arrangement. 

Among The Franklin's Books opens with analogue, long-sustain 8-bit sine bursts which are accentuated by bass drones, blurry electric guitar washes and hazy sparkles. These devices altogether point to the synergetic nature of the Commuting EP in its first seconds already. Deep drones as well as icy particles are meshed and create an intriguing dusky-gleeful soundscape thanks to their entanglement. The glinting guitar stabs cause a warm aura whose plasticity is further augmented by electric piano-like twangs; it's not clear to me whether they derive from a stringed instrument or a synth, which makes them compelling and skillfully crafted. A coruscating organ layer is juxtaposed against the dark sine bursts and leads to the track's final 60 seconds long Ambient phase that is absolutely gorgeous. A monotonous but vividly quavering synth of blurry halcyon days-nostalgia functions as the unexpected but well-working climax of the opener. Despite a multitude of dark ingredients, Among The Franklin's Books is torn between several genres and niches, but neither does the duo fulfill the needs of the respective followers of each genre, nor do they fail with this approach: the beginning of the track caters to the Drone fans, the middle section is distantly related to Dark Ambient territories due to its ecclesial organ – which is played in too high regions anyway to justify this comparison – and the final vignette that is glued at the end of this track resides in clear-cut nostalgia-evoking territories that glimmer beautifully and encapsulate a rose-tinted luminescence that almost counteracts against the endemic mood Tropic Of Coldness have carved out in the previous minutes. As I've stated before: it's all about the synergies, and they work well in the first offering already. Up next is Half-empty Closets, an almost six and a half minutes long abyssal piece. Bass drones that could derive straight from a dark vault, bursting guitar licks with a high attack rate and a backwards-wafting spectral fog intermix and make this a doleful track. An occasional appearance of a piercing guitar string traverses the almost clinically sterile atmosphere, but the remnants of dirt, i.e. the trembling pulses of the gelid synths, the slightest scents of crackles and the liminal moiré of pink noise that towers like a veil above the devices make this a less than appropriate comparison. I don't draw it out of the blue, however. The atmosphere is – you've guessed it – once more dependent on oxymoronic synergies. This is a warm drone track that suggests isolation. Or how about this: it's a soul-searching process embedded in-between an entrancing tranquility. It's hard to pinpoint the mood, for it transports a sadness, but also traces of hope and balmy comfort. In the end, it depends on the listener's viewpoint. A very soothing piece. I cannot wait to check it out in winterly surroundings when time and temperature are right.

O Plano De Austeridade launches with a field recording of rain on a roof top. Crystalline fractals and spiraling guitar licks merge with music box-like droplets. The tonality of both instruments (or is it three sources? Maybe even four?) correlates well, and this is without a doubt the frostiest composition with an aura of pristine beauty. The cacophonous string remnants that are presented near the end of the track don't destroy the setup. O Plano De Austeridade is the simplest arrangement of the Commuting EP, but that's done on purpose in order to let the short runtime below the four-minute mark speak for itself. It would be problematic if this fragile piece of music was penetrated by dark counterparts or frantic Glitch fragments. So this one time, Giovanni and David maintain a consistent mood in a proper Ambient track. The nostalgic feeling might not correlate well with the track title, but maybe that's just my internal mind node. Thankfully, I don't have to think too hard about the relation between music and title, for the experimental The Burdens Of Commuting could well be the signature track due to its title alone. A blurry mist of static noises, AM radio frequencies and whitewashed metallic clangs is complemented by thin, prolonged beeps. If you listen closely, something beautiful is happening beyond their superimposition: you can perceive a wonderful and even convivial melody that's deeply embedded in the alcoves of the drones, but becomes more clear as the track progresses. This particular sound layer contains a majestically solemn aura. It's very week and highly ephemeral due to stormy winds and the sky-high regions of the remaining layers, but it's definitely there. Even though this track has the color white all over it, it's not cold or intimidating, but somehow paints a winterly landscape with ease … from a warm point of shelter, of course. It's an underwhelming track at first, but grows with every minute, never delivering a show-stopping crescendo, but keeping its progressive pace. It's a beautiful arrangement if you can take the kilohertz abundance. The final Downward Spiral, Pro-Cyclicity features the screeching brakes of a train or sub as its point of departure, but soon morphs into a phantasmagoric and absolutely superb Drone track that is as misty and foggy as the majority of the duo's gathered material, but nonetheless unique. The glacial synth layers pulsate quicker than before, but they aren't cold, but contain a warmth and coziness that is hard to explain. It's probably best compared to the lounge-like tone sequences of Jan Jelinek's 1999 debut album as Gramm called Personal Rock. However, the term lounge shouldn't put you off and is not meant to group Tropic Of Coldness together with picayune Balearic Dance hymns. It's the hybridization between major and minor keys, the small fissures within them in which this track resides that makes it so mellifluous and mellow, despite its iciness. Additional guitar strings are interwoven and are actually the last melodious ingredient of this EP whose dark and blurry, but by no means threatening drone layers fade out slowly.

Let me recapture the nature of the Commuting EP and link it back to the band name Tropic Of Coldness: even though their name and track titles like The Burdens Of Commuting should crush anyone's good mood way before the first audible waves reach the ears, let me stress that with every cold note, particle or aura this EP contains, it presents welcome traces of thermal heat. These traces are so beautifully mixed and strong enough to deny the album a possible categorization as a Dark Ambient or Glitch album. It is a proper Drone album with carefully built layers. The listener doesn't encounter a lush thicket of layers rather than a cautiously set up interplay between loops, sustains and curlicues such as pops, static noises and the occasional field recording. Commuting is a delicious EP for Drone fans and followers of a perfectly weighted or balanced mix. It would be no problem for the duo to rev up the synths, to let them outshine the various sparks with ease. But I can perceive a density that is reached due to the sum of its parts, not the parts themselves! It's hard to describe; an adage I tend to use when I'm awe-struck by the beauty, but at the same time cannot find any additional words and by knowing that this work of beauty is unfortunately not made for every Ambient listener. This is also the case with the Commuting EP. Fans of Pop Ambient structures who demand shimmering warmth, catchy loops and mesmerizing honey-watered gardens will probably not relate to any of the five tracks. Fans of Japanese Drone artists, Ambient groups with a golden ear, as well as admirers of fragile layers and the interplay between space and sound, however, will be drooling all over this EP. And it's free at time of writing! Tropic Of Coldness have delivered an excellent EP for a certain clientele, true, but the tranquility, peacefulness and modesty of their recording are totally worth it. I am very sure that I will come back to this EP time and again, especially so in Winter where it will be used as an imagined – or rather imaginative – source of heat. Give it a try, its synergy might convince you as well! 




Ambient Review 099: Tropic Of Coldness – Commuting EP (2012). Originally published on Jul. 25, 2012 at