Weirdo Haze






A British tongue-in-cheek attitude cannot be denied when one looks at the title of Bristol-based John Doak's aka Fontaine's Weirdo Haze EP, released in January 2013 on the Canadian Inner Ocean Records label and available on Bandcamp as a name-your-price download. It is a proper Drone record of the electronic – read: non-electro-acoustic – kind, though there is a classic piano or a synthetic variant thereof woven in at various points. The EP lives up to the exquisite sans-beat Detroit-insinuating post-Rave washes of Delays, the artist's debut from October 2012, released on the Australian Twice Removed label. Weirdo Haze luckily offers more of the same layer entanglement while differing from Delays, and even though formulaic sentences like this leave a stale aftertaste, I rather want this to be understood as a compliment in terms of the cozy melancholy and retrogressive yearning Fontaine advects into his sounds. The titular Haze is easily explainable, for it is a characteristic trait that is central to Drone music: it can, for instance, consist of silkening half-tone melodies with large amounts of reverb, waves of white noise, hall or faux-tape hiss which then potentially lead to a wadded, snugly panorama that feels either larger, more cavernous or forlorn than any ramification of piercing synth pad sparks can accomplish. John Doak lets a large amount of hazy filters unfold in and around his arrangements, and yet does every single one of them sound entirely different and can stand on its own feet in isolation. All tracks have still something in common: a largely melancholic aura in an otherwise potentially carefree setting. Never does this aura feel soul-crushing though, as it is perfectly mellow and mellifluous. But why the word Weirdo in the title? An explication of its specific meaning is saved for later, but in the given prospect of the EP, let me state in advance that Weirdo is too harsh a word in regard to the five tracks.


The aptly titled Merge proves to be the first contact, for Fontaine entangles many different textures and surfaces, but especially so various conflicting moods on this one; the load balance is cleverly managed, the sounds ebb and float, the dichotomous clash of experiencing tropical heat on the one hand while gazing at a toxic rain cloud-covered harbor basin on the other hand is not perceived as discordant, but eminently luring and powerful. It so happens that Merge seems to breathe and float organically, with many attached rain forest-like sound carpets in the background. The mood feels… pink. Like the front artwork so aptly shows, most layers are deliberately diffuse, with the airflow of the titular haze wafting like white noise through the pastel-colored ooze. While the opener launches in a rather dusky fashion with dark synthetic strings, the admixed synth swirls gleam and glow in warm colors. Once a New Age-resembling cyberbird chirps in front of that aura, a comparison with Thom Brennan's Mist (2000) or even Lone's jolly Rave masterpiece Galaxy Garden (2012) is entirely applicable. These high-pitched rotor artifacts boost the plasticity and wideness next to the oscillating breezes and golden-shimmering synth billow. Opaque piano-like sprinkles echo from the distant backdrop as the power of the winds decreases and the track fades out. Merge is torn between a doleful melancholia and beatific rapture, but its solemnity is traversed by iridescent aortas which harbor an ameliorating energy and hence interpolate the layers even more. It is a particularly strong piece with that certain Fontaine duality of planned tentativeness.


The following Comatose may have a portentous title, but resides in the same contemplative, albeit more pressing climes of nostalgia. Starting with crowing raven-resembling spirals and large amounts of whitewashed streams, Fontaine soon grafts a slowly meandering synth melody onto the shuttling sizzles and mellow staccato apparitions that orbit between a polyphonous warmth in major and more threnodic dimensions. Electric piano chords underline the strangely lofty and heavy intertwining with their frosty nature, light breezes turn to mountainous gales all of a sudden, and yet there is that feeling that the track forms an aural plateau, with each sound being on the same height. The final third of Comatose sees the inclusion of sawtooth dark matter pads which pulsate murkily in adjacency to the lonesome atmosphere. This second track is dithery – even indifferent – in the route it takes, the reasons being close at hand, for Comatose is soaked in and perturbed by a much sadder aura with less traces of snugness. The eponymous Weirdo Haze is next, features globs of auroral proportions whose lights are scattering through the endemically hazy effulgence… and shows me the limiting boundaries of my reviewing skills notwithstanding, for I cannot possibly link the title to the soundscape. There is haze alright. But no weird traces whatsoever. The track does change the intrinsic feeling though, since it is delicately ethereal and airy without ever neglecting large streams of thermal heat. Weirdo Haze is terrifically balmy and luring, its mood is hard to describe, but definitely not gloomy. It comprises of two or three crystalline layers that are accompanied by a bass drone which is then further ennobled by lushly clicking pops and a crackling, well, haze. Curiously enough, Weirdo Haze is the shortest track of the EP and way below the four-minute mark, but it is the one I would love to submerge into; for a zone-out artifact, it is decidedly too short, but I could see this on a Pop Ambient compilation. It has that care-free spirit and spellbinding humbleness.


Dorset Ritual, on the other hand, returns to partially lamenting courses. It is here where John Doak embeds the clearest piano chords or resembling synths. While still being a Drone track, Dorset Ritual is a crepuscular critter, almost austere and eminently echoey due to its vault-like hall effects, churning piano bursts and dark bass underpinnings. Of particular interest is the ghoulish synth choir in the background whose histrionic undulation colors the track into a sanguine light of arcaneness. It is the only track on the EP where the interplay of the melodies and engulfed tone sequences is actually more important and thought-provoking than the careful selection or creation of textures. This is a piano arrangement in the camouflaged shape of an acroamatic synth anthem, very profound and sadness-inducing. The hall effect really does add a spectral gravity; the lingering sounds amalgamate with the darkness, the color range is decidedly limited, hatched and ashen. The outro Midsummer Drift has an epicurean title, and indeed are the sounds strikingly congruent to it, at least over the course of large parts. And right from the get-go is there a positive emanation baked into the strata. Kicking things off with a thicket of yellow-greenish euphoria and enormously good-natured ecclesiastic organ streams, one can literally feel the sunlight breaking through the branches, illuminating the verdure of the greenery. There is some kind of pleasant anticipation, the layers are supercharged with energies that wait for their release at worst or eruption at best. Mind you, Fontaine unleashes a pompously malevolent drone that rolls over the beautiful synthscape, its machine-like rumblings resembling a strikingly counterpointed, potentially destructive elemental force. Anticipation turns to apprehension. This brutish layer continues to rise and fall slowly, becoming more spiteful as the song progresses, although the wafting wind gusts are always able to return. And John Doak sets a sign: he finishes both the EP and Midsummer Drift with a final euphonious drone of bonhomie, the same one that originally started Midsummer Drift in the first place. There cannot be melancholy in an all too crestfallen world, hence the languorous lure of harmonies in major.


Both Delays and Weirdo Haze are successfully synth-driven, definitely melancholic Drone works, but whereas the former is built on many synth stabs, mildly effervescent shape-shifting color fractals and a more amicable feel, Weirdo Haze is undoubtedly gloomier and heavier despite its purifying streamlined haze. John Doak's interpretation of haze differs at a certain point. He does not equate haziness with blurriness, and so the hazy structures are allowed to contain both a pristine oceanic hiss and foggier wave-like frizzles. Throughout the EP, these spluttering devices are permanently maintained and increase the duality. Despite the constant flows of air and the refreshing breezes, the tone sequences are adamantly lonesome, quite a bit grave, but always accessible and sweet enough to not let this release slip into apocalyptic territories. Darker and lighter phases mesh ubiquitously, with the luminescent synth particles emanating much luminosity in the oftentimes grey-scaled antrums and fields. Especially Merge and Midsummer Drift are awash with light or glow from the inside, and let me not forget the mercurial superstructure of the title track Weirdo Haze with its benign New Age slivers and enthralling physiognomy. The piano chords in some of the tracks augment the meaning and relevance of the melancholia. Whether the Weirdo Haze EP delivers an aggrieving listening experience or not depends on the listener, as it is always the case, especially so in furcate works. I still like to remind myself of this profane fact at the end of the review, for the respective parts of John Doak's work on Inner Ocean Records are indeed largely doleful and expand the feeling of isolation in an effective way. The sum, however, differs greatly from its parts thanks to the luring textures and the innocence of the important haze. Fontaine balances them out and hence delivers an indifferent EP of decay and degradation which leaves many a pondering listener behind, including your humble reviewing weirdo.



Further listening and reading:

  • You can purchase (name your price) and listen to Weirdo Haze in full at Bandcamp.
  • John also creates Drone music as Sun with the goal of creating less loop-based music by suturing the cusps of the loops, if necessary. Although John gave up the distinction between Sun and Fontaine sometime in 2012, his Sun-related works carry his intendedly lethargic-shiftless handwriting with glints of hope. His works are also available at Bandcamp.
  • Follow John Doak/Fontaine/Sun on Twitter: @jd_doak.
  • Finally, check out his Cuisine selection of great Bandcamp releases of the Ambient kind here.





Ambient Review 206: Fontaine – Weirdo Haze (2013). Originally published on Apr. 17, 2013 at