SRFélix is both the project name and the title of the debut album by an at times of writing relatively unknown and mysterious up-and-coming musician who recorded these six tracks between Lille and the vivacious landscapes of Brittany. I'm sure this is about to change very soon, if it hasn't already as you're reading these lines, for this Ambient album, available at the artist's Bandcamp page is both composition-driven as well as arrangement-fueled, oscillating between synth washes, monotonous drones and a surprising amount of acoustic tracks that probably show the true talent of SRFélix way better than an enigmatic entanglement of textures and particles probably could. Such being the case, this album can neither be pinpointed to the Drone subgenre, nor the Modern Classical craze which was established by like-minded artists such as Clem Leek or Alex Tiuniaev. It's a showcase album that tries to gather many styles, moods and settings. As they're filtered through the hands of SRFélix, their different characteristic traits are whitewashed. The results are usually melancholic and nostalgic, but also glaringly warm and forward-looking. There's no gloomy atmosphere or sinister ambivalence anywhere near. Thanks to Pierre from the My Little Cab label who provided me with a digital copy of the album, I can now present a closer look at the nature of the six tracks after four weeks of growing accustomed to them, and can tell you more about the unsuspected surprises of this release.
The opener We Walk Until The End is a feast for the ears, comprising of so many ideas and styles that it's more of a sizzling-hot mirage than a mere Drone track. Seldom have I been blown away by a genre-related track in such a way, for dronescapes are usually all about the entanglement of various synths and guitar layers, depicting panoramas of cozy or eerie proportions. This track, however, is like a showcase vignette and relies heavily on an aural cinematography, with the humbly floating golden streams of violin strings, cavernously resonating vault reverberations, a short military march intersection and a crescendoing climax at its the end complete with warbled New Age flutes. It's a terrifically warm composition, definitely pompous and forward-looking. The ambiguously majestic solemnity as well as the balmy washes of bright luminescence make this a wonderful Drone track that doesn't beg for your attention … it gets it anyway once it's running. Absolutely stunning! Turning things down a notch, the piano piece The Wind Dies is yet another theme for the big screen, but much more intimate with strong doses of melancholia. Featuring anything but a piano, this composition is all about the compositional skills of SRFélix, with no distracting synth or percussive ornament. As it's the case with piano arrangements when you're viewing them from an Ambient angle, you either love the inner piece their nucleus provides, bathe in the interplay between the decay of a note and the ensuing silence … or are pretty much not interested in the classic, stripped-to-the-bones scheme of things. Aphex Twin taught electronic-craving music lovers a lesson or two about the proper setup – and the implied reception – of such piano-driven pieces, but it still feels strange to see such constructions embedded in-between piles of synth sweeps and guitar layers. As this is the debut CD of SRFélix, The Wind Dies is all the more important, as it does show his compositional skills in regard to mastering the piano. Impressive it is, but it destroys the cohesive arch of the album. Since it's a debut and due to the reasons mentioned above, its inclusion is justified at the end of the day. The following Leaving Home presents yet another form of minimalism, but it's the warmest kind that is depicted here, with a mellow acoustic- and steel guitar-driven base frame encapsulating melodious twangs. No synth to be found. The sustain of the guitars is as important a part of this surprisingly gleeful track as the actual melodies. I always have the French countryside on my mind when a song like this is running. It's carefree with a pleasant anticipation attached.
A River In Winter, despite its gelid title, returns to the warm Drone nature of the first track, with mellifluous thickets of rapturous synth sweeps, celestial drones that swell up and fall down, and a supposed electric guitar that merges wonderfully with the bolstered surroundings; it inherits the promised pinch of frostiness that the title insinuates. It's a microscopic composition that implies wideness, but delivers a concentrated gaze on the titular river. No glaring coldness is involved, making this a mellow track. Not even a tiny particle of the Glitch formula is allowed, there are no clicks, crushing ice or blistering chimes. Up next is Old Memories that merges the composition-driven structures of the acoustic tracks with the synth-fueled sound carpets of the Drone tracks for the first time. A three-note motif on the acoustic guitar is looped while more gelid piano droplets fill in the fissures in-between the guitar slaps. A fragile, cherubic synth creek flows monotonously in the background, but it is used as an accentuating device and never pushes the listener away from the upfront piano-guitar teamwork. It's another melancholic vignette, but with a certain aura of contentment. The final Until The End broadens the stylistic variety one more time, and it inherits every peaceful element that has been previously featured by SRFélix, but this time, it's a proper guitar-laden Drone track with monotonous strings of various kinds, some of them lofty, others intensive and wonderfully deep. It's a dreamy conclusion of a debut that branches off into many styles, but links all of them back to that certain cinematic flavor.
With the exception of the ever-growing Drone Pop (?) anthem We Walk Until The End that outshines every other remnant with utter ease, SRFélix delivers an intriguing concoction of compositions that's assembled with the greatest care. The overarching theme is that of a reflected gaze upon or onto forlorn landscapes. Although there are no clear field recordings interwoven, the flow of this debut is mostly organic thanks to the prominent use of guitars and the piano. It's not all about the synths as the opening track might suggest, so the strength of SRFélix's package is its potential weakness, for it caters to diverse audiences. Drone lovers who want to bathe in beams of coruscating synths will be happy with the opener and A River In Winter, but the remaining material is already much more sophisticated and clearly inspired by the Modern Classical minimalism, as the other four tracks rely solely on guitars and/or pianos, with the closing track making the slight exception of allowing a distant synth creek to traverse by. I sense that this self-titled album is the point of departure for SRFélix. Whatever characteristic traits he will compile in his forthcoming release that is scheduled for 2013, he is surely going to focus on a certain style and mood. With this debut already delivered, everyone can see what he's really capable of, relying much more on real-world instruments than cleverly tweaked synth textures and hence taking away the burden of coming up with widely varied material. It is already delivered here, so SRFélix doesn't need to bother with an all too wide range in his future works. His debut will always remain in my mind as "the one with the gargantuan opening track," and for this peculiarity I'm thankful.
SRFélix's Twitter account is @srenefelix.
Ambient Review 113: SRFélix – SRFélix (2012). Originally published on Aug. 22, 2012 at AmbientExotica.com.