Dreamfish 2






After the huge aesthetics-related success of the colorful mystique and seamy joyfulness – to use just two oxymoronic couplings – that were delivered in Dreamfish of 1993, the duo of Mixmaster Morris and Pete Namlook return in 1995 for a second, three-track enfolding installment. Dreamfish 2 harks back to the aqueous fluidity and Trance-related artifacts of the predecessor which has a huge cult following to this day. The first composition School Of Fish is mostly responsible for the success, for the duo let loose a wealth of phantasmagoric synth washes, multicolored melodies and a distant coldness which reminded of the oceanic wideness that was more properly depicted in the remaining material. Dreamfish 2 caps every possible link to this particular composition as it moves into much deeper regions that are only scarcely, if ever, illuminated by sunlight. It’s a world of mystique, harshness and intense scarcity which is properly depicted in the music. Instead of coziness and dreaminess, the listener meets thinned synth structures and a vault-like interplay between eclectic percussion layers and dubby drums. But the delivered darkness isn’t without its intriguing qualities, especially so if the listener shies away from Pop Ambient structures or overly gleaming synth hooks. Anything of these dimensions is interwoven in Dreamfish 2, and yet there’s beauty where there’s penury, and it’s depicted in all of the three tracks, one just has to dive deeper than usual.


A synth outburst of enigmatic depth is unleashed right at the beginning of the 24+ minutes long opening track Aquarium, so you don’t encounter the usual formulaic fade-in phase that’s so common in Ambient-related albums. Metallically droning synth stabs are floating in the background, sounding like New Age temple gongs. Cascading laser pulses and a spiraling square lead melody are placed in the foreground and provide the lively, if fragile, counterpart to the dusky pompousness taking place in the distance. Staccato hi-hats and a quick succession of Dub-flavored bass drums take the attention away from the skillfully painted underwater panorama, transcoding this track into an expected Trance-like nature, but without the incessantly pumping 4/4 rhythm scheme; the ambience is kept intact, for the feeling of space and wideness is incessantly upheld thanks to the multiple seconds-long sustains of the brazen clangs which permeate through the pulsating pile of synth accentuations. It isn’t until the beginning of the thirteenth minute that a crystalline, gleefully warped synth pulse shimmers in icy colors, oscillating upwards and downwards. The Trance fragments wane, making room for the pitch-black aquarama. Only the revved up punchiness of the recurring gelid cymbals brings hectic in this otherwise tranquil moment. After the twentieth minute, the closing phase of this composition shifts to proper Deep House settings for a minute, and it isn’t for the worse, despite the awful allusions you might experience by reading this very sentence. Anything but bass drums and cymbals are heard, killing off the magnanimous space for a moment. The song ends the way it began, with darkly meandering Korg pads that lead right into the next track. Although it is called Aquarium, I cannot relate to its title, given that the song is cold, mysterious and very wide in its virtual landscape. The song is almost perfectly divided into 50% Ambient and 50% Trance/Deep House, but the multilayered synths that are to be found in the latter genre are missing. The only real element of deepness are the temple gong structures, everything else is punchy, definitely cold, deliberately thin and taken to the foreground.


Aquarium moves into Caviar which thus inherits the characteristic traits of this predecessor in its point of departure, but takes a stand with a crunchy percussion loop in the spotlight complete with wafting water droplets. No sustain is felt, as this relatively short duration of 12+ minutes is all about presence and crispness. Faux-bongo hits add a hollow plasticity to the dripping swarm, with only the aforementioned dark Korg pad drifting eerily in the distance. New percussive layers are slowly attached, for example a spectrally warbled, sine wave-resembling breathing sound. Further clicks and the occasional long-sustain drip cause a delicate thicket of percussion, but cannot (and won’t) hide the minimal roots of Caviar. This is serious business, with no iridescent ornaments in sight. No melody is played at all, even the monotony of the galactic pad in the background is filtered through a phaser, hence the marginal change of its aura which, in the end, remains gloomy and threatening nonetheless. The song ends with a two-minute-phase of this very pad resonating and flowing on its own, its deepness becoming more apparent thanks to the omission of the dripping clicks. Caviar leads to the last track, the long 24+ minutes lasting dreaminess of Submerge. Right from the get-go, the coldness of the spacey synth lines become apparent, but it is the terrifically warm drone accentuations that add the first clear signs of coziness to the album for the first time. The vibraphone-esque high-note streams don’t boost the frostiness as one might expect, but encompass the superstructure of care-free innocence that meshes well with the gurgling crackles and additional synth strings (!). The piercing luminescence of the reoccuring beams of light deliver brightness in an otherwise habitually dark track. The percussion keeps a low profile, only seldom is a synthetic bongo beaten in this otherwise beatless track. The interplay between rudimentary melodies, accompanying strings and washes works really well, and the track keeps its pace throughout its runtime, never getting boring due to the concoction of varied ingredients. Submerge ends with blowing wind gusts and a final delivery of thin synth pads.


Dreamfish 2 is a double-edged sword, there’s no doubt about that. It is relaxing and can undoubtedly soak listeners in, but be aware of the fact that the compositions have the stench of blackness all over them. Despite its rose-tinted titles such as Aquarium or Caviar, the listener encounters potentially harsh synth pads and a wideness that’s more akin to the ocean than a mere aquarium, regardless of its size. Only the final composition Submerge links to the more melody-driven settings of the first Dreamfish album. In hindsight, this second installment is nonetheless pioneering in a humble way, for the depicted panoramas are wonderfully coherent, never does the duo fall prey to the use of polyphonous synth fragments, every added element serves the purpose of creating a dark flow. Such being the case, the album isn’t overly inviting from the first listening session onwards. In fact, it is inferior to Dreamfish 1 both in regard to the variety and the melodious structures. What it lacks in those territories, it provides in consistency. If the first glimpse of light and happiness is only encountered after approximately 36 minutes, this doesn’t mean that the aural journey is a pain heretofore. Mixmaster Morris’ and Pete Namlook’s concentration on the reviewer’s famous three s-words – sound, sustain, space – is successful. While the droning temple gongs transport a bold dose of peacefulness and soothing mystique in Aquarium, the eclectically dripping percussion pattern on Caviar is much more crunchy, but also very life-like. The golden thread of both tracks is the galactic space pad that drones and twists through the timespan. Only the final Submerge offers a more resplendent vista with complemental synth structures, actual melodies and a cheerful prospect. Dreamfish 2 delivers grimly aquatic Ambientscapes in the veins of Thom Brennan’s Vibrant Water and Jonson’s Mindlook, both liquid works which are preceded by Dreamfish 2 by quite a few years. If you’re keen on the dark side of water-related Ambient without things turning into proper Dark Ambient territories, Dreamfish 2 is a valuable addition. But don’t expect the majesty and colorful synth washes of the duo’s most famous composition, School Of Fish, as this album swims in a completely different ocean.




Ambient Review 104: Dreamfish – Dreamfish 2 (1995). Originally published on Aug. 8, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.