The name Fontaine might seem new, but the man behind the moniker is an experienced Drone producer who also releases music under the name Sun: Bristol-based John Doak does one particular thing quite a bit different than the many likeminded sound esthetes, putting a little five-track release into the electro-acoustic ring of 2012 that offers something new and different. Delays is the album I am talking about, released in November 2012 on the Perth-based Twice Removed Label whose curator Gavin Catling carves out the stylistic focus of his micro label time and again; with each additional release, the golden thread becomes more apparent. John Doak, being a curator himself for his Cuisine project at Bandcamp that is set up to collect the site's best Ambient and Drone tracks, fits perfectly into the catalog of the Australian label, as his music is keen on the Drone side as well. His chosen textures, however, differ greatly, and this marks the important difference: Fontaine not only injects coruscating synth streams, but places unexpectedly colorful and energetic synth stabs into the soundscapes. As it turns out, this is – at least for now – a feature dedicated to this particular mini album, for Fontaine is able to boost both yearning and dreaminess as well in his silkier Weirdo Haze EP on Inner Ocean Records, but in terms of Delays, rest assured that the British roots of Rave music are gently interwoven into the soundscape. Don't worry, Delays is a proper Drone album, you will not find any high-pitched vocal samples of former Disco queens, let alone eclectic Jungle patterns. Regardless, the synths themselves inherit that vintage 80's and energetic early 90's feeling which feels so refreshing in adjacency to the electro-acoustic guitar strings and stretched piano tones of other artists. Topping the limited edition of 100 CD-R's off is the digital version with an additional five tracks, all of them remixes of other Twice Removed artists, one of them a remix by John Doak's own alias Sun. You can listen to the whole album (without the remixes at time of writing) at the dedicated Bandcamp page of Delays. Lovers of the synth-heavy kind of Drone music, watch out.


The title track Delays proves to be a perfect point of departure for this mini album, as Fontaine comes up with a simple but effective textural surface which was seldom heard in 2012's Dronescape: I am referring to plain old retrogressive but delightfully ethereal synth stabs. Right from the get-go do they bounce blissfully, bathe in their own decay before they submerge in their own echo which conflates to a glob of oozing haze. The intrinsic structure is thus full of allotted fissures and holes. Additional mellow but post-apocalyptic sawtooth synth drones gyrate around the dreamy structure, and while they are quite cozy themselves, they inherit an opaque aggression. The whole opener seems much livelier, vigorous and acidic than what the Twice Removed label has to offer otherwise. And yet are there static noise bursts, stereo-panned wind gusts and metallic clangs of the brazen kind whose reverberation meanders through the aural antrum. The more I listened to this piece, the more it dawned on me: this is a Rave hymn or a Detroit anthem… but stripped off its beats and heavily filtered! The result is a proper Drone track, but has that certain punchiness and 80's Synth Pop feeling. And this is something I missed in 2012. A superb opener and one of my favorite tracks of the past year. And believe me, 2013 does not make it obsolete! The following loop-focused Faded sounds much warmer in contrast. Crunchy synth streams whirr in adjacency to blurry ocean waves. These waves are part of the loop. Whenever the distantly bagpipe-resembling synths reach their peak, so do the waves. Only the last third sees an alteration of this concept, with the polyphony of the synths floating in deeper, almost erudite climes, now resembling a thermal heat that is further exposed by the mesocyclone in the background. Faded is, I believe, a deliberately easygoing and repetitive Drone piece, and it is again the pattern of the synths which allow a link to the early Eno-esque 80's.


Up next is Brothers, and it is here where John Doak mediates between the blazing lucency of the synth streams and the more recent style of blurry fields of mist and fog. Unexpectedly thin and dolefully quavering synths are placed in-between distant blizzards, but the two-note backing stabs suddenly boost the euphoria of this piece. Gorgeous Space-Age vesicles such as laser sounds and blue-tinged synth droplets which oscillate between the left and right channels augment the formerly thin gloominess and make Brothers a fanfare of pompous contentment and majestic blitheness. The blurred fizzles of the drones add a machine-like savor, but never do they destroy the setting rather than expanding its impetus. Although the track ends with tones in minor when the lush soundscape becomes full circle again as it thins out, Shearwater is another composition that resides in calm realms, but is decidedly connected to Dance music, at least synth-wise. After the appearance of a few shuffling whitewashed blebs, it is the inclusion of the Trance droplets that ennoble the soundscape with their oxymoronic punchy silkiness. In a way, Shearwater reminds me of the release tactics of Hiroshi Watanabe alias Kaito who first releases a beat-driven Trance-focused album and then comes up with a dedicated Ambient version of each track a few months later. Shearwater could have been one of these tracks, as the characteristics are very similar. The final original version of a Fontaine track is called Atomised and breaks with that implied 80's style. It is a proper Drone track of the foggy kind. Encapsulating airplane engines orbit around a hymnic synth river which comprises of two to three similar layers whose polyphony increase the wistful longing of their nostalgic tone sequences. While the droning engines remain powerful and lush, there is no forceful element in here. Everything remains peaceful and indifferent.


After Fontaine's five original cuts, the community aspect of Twice Removed comes into play, as five musicians and projects remix three of Fontaine's tracks in the digital download version. Bengalfuel aka Joe LiTrenta and Lou DiEnedetto launch the remix suite with their Risky Chicken Mix of Atomised which turns the doleful mood of Fontaine's original upside down into a vivaciously technicolor-tinged hyper-hectic Rave-striving anthem full of helicopter-rotor-esque bass drums, euphoniously humming synth choir-like drone accentuations and airy synth strings. The second phase turns the remix into an Industrial critter with cylon snares, wonky bass drums and Fontaine's original synth majesty, if only a tad down-pitched. Electrifying to the max! Ben Moon follows with his Remix #4 of Atomised: it remains pretty close to the original, but puts a moiré veil over each sound, causing a snugly blur of everything, be it the ocean waves, the soft cymbals or the synth rivers. The original melody experiences another slight shift, sounding rather peaceful and a bit more uplifting. The following Sun Remix of Shearwater is created by John Doak himself. He gets rid of the Trance stabs and fully concentrates on the drone side of the spectrum, keeps the original melodies intact, but lets them oscillate and tremble wildly most of the time, causing a haphazard stir in the formerly positively streamlined listening experience. Coming up next is Liam Coleman's aka L_coma remix of Brothers. Whereas the original intercedes between synth stabs and synth bolsters, L_coma takes the track back down to earth. The synth washes are decidedly deeper and more languorous, the gossamer peacefulness is maintained throughout the runtime and is accentuated by the laser sounds of the original. L_coma's remix is a feast for dedicated Drone fans, its whitewashed flow an encapsulation of brightness and fortitude. The final mix is handed in by Erik Schoster aka He Can Jog. He picks the turbulence-perturbed synth stab-focused title track Delays and turns it into a magnificently glittering scintilla of staccato glitz, inductor-esque machine drones and gunmetal bubbles and slivers. The whole remix gleams in a bedazzling fashion and provides a great plasticity, making Schoster's interpretation another top pick of mine. Respectfully enough, the remix ends with an ecclesial and humble organ stream.


Delays is a positively wondrous mini album in that it is based on a dichotomy I have severely missed in 2012, given the fact that I cannot possibly know the whole Dronescape: John Doak unchains a humble vivacity. The expected blizzards, airy wind textures and lofty breezes in tandem with hazy mists made it to this album altogether, gently whirring and dynamically whirling along. But the nucleus to my ears is provided by the gorgeous synthscapes. Enough of the electro-acoustic formula, at least right now for this very moment when Delays is running! Fontaine goes back to the drawing board and reaches a timeline where the surface of the sound waves was freely oscillating thanks to analogue equipment and an overly glaring advection of high-pass filters, various modulators and other frequency-channeling controls. My aforementioned link to the synth-heavy 80's might be bewildering to many listeners and probably the artist himself, but it is used to stress the ever-changing tinges and hues of the streams, the iridescent art form of the placed synth stabs and the Detroit-y nature of the arrangements. The steady beats are obviously missing, but mostly everything else is on board. From the celestial frost of the opener over the encapsulating moleskin shelter of warmth in Faded to the endpoint-evoking Atomised with its boost in lachrymosity, Delays is a great debut of a skilled musician on the at time of writing one-year old Twice Removed label. Remix-wise, I tend to be lured by the Drone-based offerings by He Can Jog and L_coma, but a special mention is earned by the definite adrenaline booster that is Bengalfuel's Risky Chicken Mix of Atomised; the duo might have had the same impressions in mind than I have, namely that Delays is a Rave artifact at its heart, but well-camouflaged and terrifically masked as a Drone record. Bengalfuel carve out the quirkier undertones and kick them into the multicolored spotlight. An audacious move! And as we all know, audacity equals success in these times.




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Ambient Review 166: Fontaine – Delays (2012). Originally published on Jan. 2, 2013 at