Dive Signals






Bedrooms is the third album by the Orange County-based guitarist and Drone musician Angel Ortega aka Dive Signals at the time of writing this review. It was released in February 2013 on the Static Reason label and is available to purchase (name your price) and listen to in full at Bandcamp, with a CD version available in late March. The artist describes the core of his music as an "experimental free form," implying the many shifts, genres and surfaces that are interwoven in each track. Indeed, straight beat layers and percussive accentuations are as important as pristine guitars, galactic synth washes and a smaller dose of field recordings. Over the course of Bedrooms at least, Ortega's free form is luckily tamed. The album is coherent, the synth structures change every so often, as do the timbres, but they are close enough to each other to allow a dedicated, well-crafted album. The second most important arc of Dive Signals' music is its concept of dreaminess. The dreamlike state is usually built with the help of opposite color palettes, for example warm guitars in front of a maelstrom of tensely ashen synths, or the aforementioned beat patterns that allow the synth legato to breathe and glimmer in varying colors. Composed over the course of four days, Bedrooms is a conglomeration of New Age particles, bonfire songs, Dark Ambient bits and instances of carefreeness. 


Touch opens the album in that dreamy way which runs as a golden thread through all of Angel Ortega’s albums. Shuttling between an emerald-green string of melancholia drones and effervescently bubbling pulses and chime frequencies, this opener feels tense, at times curiously stormy but nonetheless soothing. Once the voluminosity of the synths decreases as everything fades out, one realizes how dense and cozy this arrangement has been. Conduct is coming up next and is the first track of a perceived triptych; each track resembles an 11+ minutes long part. The first section of Conduct revs up the haziness of the backing synths. Bubbles of melodies whirr in the distance when a Glitch-fueled beat complete with bone-dry snares and moist clicks is dropped, uniting the sepia-tinted nostalgia backdrop with the more uplifting excitement upfront, creating a void of haziness that is further nurtured by the sun-soaked glissando of the purposefully vestigial guitar chords. The closing phase of this track is noteworthy too, for it mutes the beat, allows a closer look at the guitar loops and suddenly unleashes shedloads of heavy synth pulses which have not been featured heretofore. Why the timbre of this track is perturbed by the pulses' – admittedly great – impetus is beyond me, as their inclusion feels like an afterthought rather than a proper closing phase.


The following Projection advects a hibernal atmosphere with a reverb-laden downbeat, glistening chimes plus iridescent snowflakes and New Age-oid space flutes which are altogether placed in front of a yellow synth panorama. The shakers of the beat stumble for several moments, become out of sync and ennoble the interplay of the square lead pad (or electric guitar) with the whirling synthscape behind them. Despite the laid-back approach, Projection feels vivid and vigorous, each of its layers has a certain deliberate flaw or quirkiness that prevents them from appearing as streamlined or silkened. After a fitting beatless Ambient apotheosis that allows a closer look at the characteristic traits of the background, 10 Stories is the final 11-minutes-track of the said triptych and is a proper electro-acoustic Drone track: a mellifluous alto flute is entangled with wonderfully plinking music box fractals, aqueously galloping percussion layers and languorous guitar coatings. The backing synths increase, their legato drones are mellifluous, but the actual showstoppers consist of the brazen machine-like guitar riffs that sound harsh and screeching, but also mercurial and sprightly. The fade-out phase of this track takes quite a long time, and as usual, once some layers cease to exist, the remaining ones are able to shine and show the effect they have had on the arrangement in an isolated manner.


Exhale might be one of the shortest tracks of just four minutes, but its growing density and Oriental New Age characteristics are signature elements in the given timespan. Sitar-like guitar twangs, mystical gongs, whistling droplets and very dense temple synths induce the feeling of being at an archeological site. My description does not do the track justice, it is not as clichéd or esoteric as it may seem. This one is definitely a highlight! The titular Bedrooms then presents a vivid percussion-focused base frame with a huge flaw, and that flaw can only exist due to its big strength: the glaringly luminescent and enthralling Far Eastern chime melody is unleashed far too infrequently in-between the gentle snare placenta and the dusky synth choir in the background. This rose-tinted melody glows and gleams, but is hopelessly covered by abyssal bass drones and catchy shakers, all of them perfectly fine and vivid, but outshone by that very element that is only rarely resurfacing. A missed opportunity in my opinion, for I want to bathe in the Asian oxymoronically lightweight meaningfulness akin to Tetsu Inoue’s last two works Yolo (2005) and Inland (2007). An impressive track nonetheless, the similarities of their aesthetics are striking.


While Dead Slack is another Dronescape with diffuse field recordings of a playground or public swimming pool, soft vinyl-esque crackles and nostalgia-boosting bonfire guitar layers, it is Minor that almost crosses the line to Dark Ambient realms thanks to its enigmatically pulsating wooden five-note snares, the echoey screeches in the distance, dark cascades of ebbing and flowing washes and vesiculating wind chimes. Everything seems cozy and soothing, but there is always a looming (or luring?) flurry baked into this reciprocating state. Another prime example of Dive Signals’ aural dreamscapes and my second favorite next to Exhale. The final Endorphins is the longest and warmest track, with the nature of the acoustic guitar being clearly in the spotlight, serving as the track’s main aorta which is surrounded by occasionally dissonant synth clouds, an reciting child in the distance, galactic swirls and soft sweeps of imagined warp engines. If there is one track that tries to unite the euphonious warmth of the guitar with the designedly cacophonous uncanniness of the perilous synths, it would be Endorphins. Here, the title only applies to the guitars and maybe the final Ambient phase which allows the listener access to its polylayered existence, showing that beyond the discordance, there were golden synths shimmering all along. A dreamlike state indeed.


Bedrooms is a soothing-exciting artifact that showcases Angel Ortega's dualism in his soundscapes once more. Whether there are classic guitars in the limelight or mysterious synth layers, there is always a counterpointed stratum in each arrangement; it does not need to be so obviously dissonant as in the closing track, there are other instances where the entanglement is much more subtle, for example in my favorite of the album, the cryptic Exhale, where the stereotypes of lackluster New Age mannerisms suddenly turn into both enlightening and essential elements that pour a blue-greenish hue over the figments and implied ruins. Here, the moony state truly works and makes this a fantastic piece in the truest sense of the word. Or take Minor on the other hand which shows the potentially shadier side of the spectrum without falling prey to the Dark Ambient dungeons, even though its whispering molecules, various chimes and synth swamps suggest otherwise. Dive Signals' Bedrooms is a coherent album which still consists of a wide range of different synths, field recordings and filters. Ortega's greatest skill is likely the multilayered structure of the backing drones. They initially sound monothematic, but do in fact comprise of many bubbling layers and overtones. More often than not, Dive Signals allows a closer glimpse onto them when the respective song fades out; their positively labyrinthine structure surprises me regularly, and it is a pity that all of their wide arrays are not perceptible all the time. Neither on headphones nor via speakers could I unravel or distill them when all other layers were fully intact. Only when the synths shine on their own are their characteristic traits fully audible. While this is a natural – read: perfectly common – observation in Drone works of the thickly wadded kinds, less conflicting or additional similarly painted layers would have further improved the intrinsic style. The problem: Dive Signals' compositions would then have grown thinner and lacked the dichotomous vibrancy. It is an unsolvable state that itself feels like a dream. What a fitting conclusion.



Further listening:
You can purchase (name your price) and listen to Bedrooms in full at Bandcamp.





Ambient Review 196: Dive Signals – Bedrooms (2013). Originally published on Mar. 20, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.