Thom Brennan






In my review of Thom Brennan’s millennial album Mist, I have quipped the following remark in the last paragraph: "This album is for die-hard synthesizer fans with lots of patience and a love for mystical, rather dark and multilayered Ambient music that lives, breathes and pulsates, but is otherwise terrifically (or terribly?) consistent." And this assertion can be applied to the majority of this sound artist’s works. Despite their usual, but non-mandatory three-to-four-track structure as interwoven on Mist or Vibrant Water (2001), the music literally flows along and comprises of the same textures and characteristic traits in each and every arrangement, providing a strictly cohesive and harmonious, but admittedly tiresome listening experience, depending on one’s patience or specific needs. Sure, the Ambient genre launched this way, and if one was being sarcastic, there are always piles of Pop music-related radio edits for those unwilling listeners to enjoy, but seriously, Ambient music continues to evolve, the once stereotypically boring genre nowadays comprises of many subgenres and various styles. I am glad that dedicated, incredibly centroid-centered works in the veins of Thom Brennan’s exist, but I for one am also fond of shorter Ambient pieces of artists who showcase a certain textural setting in one song and a totally different flavor in the following composition. Luckily, Brennan is able to do this as well, if only partially so: Silver, recorded in 2003–2004 in Seattle and released in 2005 on his own Raingarden Music label, consists of a whopping eight tracks, twice or almost thrice the amount of his usual works. Brennan presents six tracks of varying lengths in the so-called Silver suite which itself is finished with two added compositions that are close enough to the particular aura to harmoniously fit into the larger scheme. But shorter track durations are by no means the only surprising change; from a sound-related viewpoint, Brennan delivers his well-known, high-plasticity and wonderfully dense synth streams which wash over the hypnotized listener, but for the first time, he adds a magnanimous amount of glistening, twinkling blebs and particles. This broadens the soundscape tremendously! Without them, Silver would not be the same album, as they are essential ingredients in seven out of eight tracks. Due to their implied liveliness and the ensued diversity, I am quite affectionate about this work, and as usual, I have carved out my observations below. 


Silver Part 1 shows right from the get-go how its intrinsic soundscape differs from the much darker and heavier synth washes of Brennan’s material released shortly after the millennium. While still being decidedly ethereal, Silver Part 1 is much loftier, with many plinking particles, iridescent flecks and glistening chimes wafting around a wraithlike synth aorta. The dynamics have thus increased, the soundscape feels aerial and breezy, if also glaringly gelid. The middle section of the opener reminds much more of Thom Brennan’s previous works, as there is a moment of a molecule-less Drone creek that floats along gently; due to the comparatively short runtime of less than nine minutes, this phase is soon over and ennobled with the mystical wind chimes and uplifting vesicles. It is surprising how good-natured and playful this first arrangement sounds thanks to its whirring devices, making it one of the artist’s most accessible Ambient tracks. Silver Part 2 is even more astonishing: boosting the warmth with one of the most vernal synth washes in tandem with croaking artificial tarn inhabitants and cavernous bass drones, this composition glows and shines and delivers the utmost positive aura Thom Brennan has ever unleashed. Naturally, the mood shifts and falters incessantly, as the orange-colored luminescence changes into frozen but rose-tinted segues with many sparkling spirals and an opulently enigmatic setting, but still, Part 2 is the brightest offering of them all. Silver Part 3 harks back to this cherubic setting, but shows the prototypical synth-heavy ethereality Brennan is known for. Consequentially, Part 3 is colder, but also more whitewashed and bright, with heavily reverberating steel guitar scintillae juxtaposed to the hypnotic balm. The wideness is once again magnificent, the synthetic chirping of the birds reminds of Mist, but even better are the galactic laser sounds that flit through the dreamscape. Silver Part 3 is thus a hibernal track, but its setting is elevated due to the guitar twangs and its spacey sound effects.


Silver Part 4 is the centerpiece of the suite with 14 minutes of unforeseen variety and various textures: launching with quiet synth rivers and emerald-green shimmering synth pads whose glitziness is gigantic and fortunately allowed to conflate with the minimal synthscape, Brennan injects even more auroral synth streams into the arrangement, providing a warmer base frame for the powerful atoms to gyrate through. Shortly before the six-minute mark, these streams become ever stronger, being on par with the coruscating bits. And so Silver Part 4 meanders along, always placing these epicurean splinters in adjacency to the creek, the latter of which changes its pattern and surface every so often. It is here that the artist showcases a diversified approach even in a long piece. Silver Part 5 comprises of an equal length of twelve minutes and is eminently keen on the bell-like side of things: many chimes, glockenspiel notes, liquid pulses and orchestra gongs unfold their lucent traits in close proximity to cyber storms and tempered washes. The climax is reached after eight minutes when the synths grow decidedly stronger and waft mightily before the bell-fueled crystalline soundscape comes to an end. The final piece of the Silver suite, Silver Part 6, resides in more melancholic climes, withdrawn into itself due to the icy synth washes in minor. It is still flickering and twinkling due to the oscillating crystal shards which whirl and glister in a bustling manner. The whole Silver suite proves that Brennan’s Ambient music sounds so much livelier and more energetic if he grafts these little devices to the omnipresent legato. The album is rounded off with two additional tracks: the fifteen minutes of Time place a ticking clockwork metronome and the terrifically punchy gongs of Silver Part 5 to the celestial, ever-changing synth washes which change their timbre from blurry to piercing and back to a mercurial haze as the song progresses, while the seven minutes long outro Afterglow is vintage Brennan material, totally silkened and streamlined with no glistening particles other than the galactosamine crickets and morphing textures of the synths, thus providing the same amount of change and diversion as all the previous Ambient tunes, but with way less distracting silicics and pieces.


Thom Brennan’s Silver is my top choice in terms of accessibility and pastime. It is a splendid introductory piece to his music, as it encapsulates everything that is great about his Ambient realms, but channels it through much better structured courses: the heaviness and thickness of the synth layers are well represented here, but the constant change of their textures offers great counterpoints to his extremely focused millennial works. The shorter durations are a boon, and while there are people out there who dislike the fact that Thom Brennan succumbed to the shorter attention span of the modern listener, I find it refreshing to see a wealth of ideas carved out better and more distinct than on his longer works. After all, Silver still provides a boldly cohesive listening experience. Of the utmost importance and the most obvious stylistic particularity are the ever-plinking particles which swirl, whir, move and flow around the synth rivers. Be it guitar twinkles, orchestra bells or spacey flints, they either add lachrymose or exhilarative veins to the semiliquid, winterly atmosphere. These obvious changes lead to the feeling of Silver being a loftier, brighter and transcendental album: the euphonious euphoria in Silver Part 2 is utterly unexpected and a much-needed expansion of Brennan’s mood range. The ambiguous twilight state of this album is unmatched, as I tend to believe that everyone gets what he or she is looking for: fans of the synth maestro’s vintage material will be happy about the resplendent density, impatient Ambient fans with not too much time on their hands will be glad about the shorter durations of the tracks, and people with a short attention span – no insult intended! – may be glad to bathe in the sparkling coruscation of the many slivers and specks whose qualities and tonalities presumably justify the album title. If you want to check out just one single album by Thom Brennan for whatever reason, let it be Silver.




Ambient Review 155: Thom Brennan – Silver (2005). Originally published on Dec. 5, 2012 at