Adam Quinn






Millennium: A Retrospective is an eight-track album by the Rochester, New York-based sound artist Adam Quinn who self-released this neon-green artifact in June 2013. It is available to purchase and listen to in full at Bandcamp. Rarely did a front artwork of the Ambient genre mirror the sound layers so closely than on this album. Cited by the artist as “the most personal piece of self-expression that I have ever created,” it not only interweaves snippets and melodies from Quinn’s previous albums, it also pays a strong homage to the millennial Clicks & Cuts movement. Despite being a clear cut Ambient album, Millennium mimics the analogue synth streams which ennobled multitudinous albums of the not so distant past. A Yamaha synth of the 80's plays an important role on that score, as do camouflaged organic sounds from the artist's childhood home in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Despite their shimmering textures, Adam Quinn carefully adjusts their sound to feel delicately reduced and thin on some tracks, and then a bit more thick and dense on others. The album is curiously enough linked to 9/11 in that this incident not only altered the perception of the term millennium, but the feelings and emotions of whole generations. Notwithstanding this devastating incident, the created arrangements cannot be linked to it at all if the listener does not know about the artist's motivations. Likewise, as with all highly personal albums, the reviewer’s impressions can only be partly congruent with the emotional range of the producer, if at all.


The title Millennium thus evokes at least three different connotations: firstly, it is about the traces and scents of Quinn’s previous albums that made it onto this record, so those in the know of the artist’s ouevre will undoubtedly catch the careful nods. Secondly, the sound architect infinitesimally hints at the societal change caused by 9/11, which, as mentioned above, does not occur in the sounds themselves, no matter how hard one tries to distill them; there are zero spoken word samples, no threnody at all. However, many arrangements feel as if time stands still, as if one is in a perpetual state of shock. And finally, Millennium makes heavy use of analogue synths and that certain minimalism of the times. Shuttling between Ambient, Glitch and Drone, Millennium is perfectly tailored to my specific yearning for the past and my distinct weakness in terms of synth-based works. A deeper look at the album proves to be valuable, and even though some production techniques are nowadays considered moss-covered, they are applied in order to create a pastel-colored trip down memory lane that transfers the colors of the front artwork into the music spectrum.


Slouching Towards… works flawlessly as an opener, this much is clear right from the get-go, for it encapsulates the music-related millenial kind of nostalgia as well as the otherwise dystopian scheme that looms portentously over each aural artifact. Here, however, delight and dreaminess outweigh uncertainty. Slowly rising, the unfolding synth spirals inherit that Clicks & Cuts feel of the early 00’s, although the actual, well, clicks and cuts are missing in the emerald-green ambience. The mystical, moist and hazy loop is based on roundabout five tones (or half-tones) and is tied together by a whirling bond. In the end, the minimalism of Slouching Towards… is twofold: the looped structure which is repeated ad infinitum and only limited by the track’s boundaries is designedly sparse but oh so luring, and this minimal appearance then meets the thinness of the cloudy synths, with no bass aorta injected whatsoever. Neither crestfallen nor uplifting, the seemingly appropriate term for this piece would be phantasmagoric. Follow-up Zanzibar is a much more fleshed out piece of 10+ minutes comprising of archetypically oscillating dark matter pads whose fir green afterglow illumines the brighter, more ethereal drone walls. This is a Drone track alright, one which keeps both its pace and physiognomy. A lachrymose tune with dense thickets of droning streams, Zanzibar tries to captivate the listener via its length, and this factor makes the nonexisting progression even more apparent. Being captured in this wraithlike cocoon is a soothing experience. Everything stands still.


Somnambulist then resembles the production method of Gas by placing a mellow 4/4 beat erection into golden glissandos of gyrating globs. Their pristine aura and sharp plasticity are contrastive devices in comparison to the purposely muffled beat which appears nonthreatening and benign above anything else. Even though Somnambulist is melodious, the sustain of a tone cross-fades into each subsequent one. Adam Quinn hence creates an unreal warmth whose amicability never fully reaches a climactic conclusion. As a result, Somnambulist remains in limbo and certainly emanates an aura of shadiness. There is something more to it, but the positively ever-repetitive fabric puts the listener into a trance-like state. Whereas City Of is a whisper-quiet, literally placid vignette of a presumed field recording traversed by crackling heterodynes, New Age-oid vibraphone-like wind chimes and the softest frequency washes whose murky fluxion augments the twilight complexion, Lonely Hearts is the black sheep of Millennium in that it is a somewhat forwards-moving dark brute supercharged with delicately misty analogue whirls, soothingly synthetic wind gusts as well as a laid-back breakbeat whose kick drum-based echo bounces through the silkened maelstrom and – gasp! – even increases its density with additional snares and snarls. This is an embracing dreamscape with coruscating-cosmic channels and an enigmatic effulgence.


The eponymous Millennium adds a decisive counterpoint to the album. Like Panabrite's takes on the New Age formula or the Drone phase of Stellar OM Source, Adam Quinn’s piece figuratively unleashes a heliosphere of gaseous joy, everything feels lofty and lightweight, but by no means picayune! The phasing of the aeriform backdrop is gorgeous, electric piano prongs and softly glittering specks gently float in-between this transcendental airflow. Millennium hides flecks of threnody and yearning in its verdure, but is just too mesmerizing. A fantastic airy-ethereal piece which will stay with me for a long time. Its cinematic structure is cleverly masked. While Dome Syndrome returns to the more limewashed dun hue of the album and grafts traces of prolonged ecclesiastic chime synths onto the bubbling beat structure and vesiculating veils, Goodbye, Dark Tower is indeed towering and the most saturated Drone composition of the whole album due to Adam Quinn’s voluminous synth choir cascades, complemental chime infusions and solemn sine whistles in the far back. As usual, time seems to stand still, the listening subject is caught in a Moebius loop, only that the loop is not discoverable this time, for the New Yorker sound artist has blurred all cusps. The album closes with a remix of Lonely Hearts by Adam Quinn himself which is part of the digital album only and cannot be streamed at the time of writing this review. Nowadays, artists do not remix themselves as often as they once did, so this is indeed another millennial trait that has to be applauded. The original Lonely Hearts had a diffuse synth placenta in its center; the remix circumvents this by only placing bit-crushed remnants of its twirling spirals in front of a Glitch-heavy yet streamlined scheme of frostiness via processed hi-hats which may not be overly incisive, but piercing enough to rev up the energy level. The remix, in the end, seems like a vestige. A fitting conclusion.


“Everything changed; innocence was lost; and my generation entered a brave new world.” Adam Quinn’s three-step quote is admittedly based on well-known fragments. You have heard expressions like these before, no doubt about this. Change is mostly bad. Innocence has to be cherished. A brave new world leaves a stale aftertaste. That these impressions are so omnipresent and commonplace might dilute their importance in understanding this album. This assertion becomes especially meaningful when one takes the nine tracks out off the context they are embedded in. Millennium hides its deepest meaning, Adam Quinn does not succumb to spoken word samples or other intrinsic explanation notes in the songs itself. This turns out to be a boon, for no matter how important and personal an album Millennium is for the New York-based sound architect, it can be thoroughly enjoyed without the knowledge of the events that led to its existence. The album title ought to be enough, and indeed, more than a decade after the craze, the  term millennium has lost a lot of its excitement. What was for years an event to look out – or die – for, has now turned into a thing of the past. That’s crazy, isn’t it? Now the term means even more things than before, as it suddenly epitomizes both the future and the past. And naturally, it is the past that is fully embraced by Quinn, with each of the ten tracks sounding wonderfully retrogressive and sumptuous, evoking the analogue-digital hybrid mélange of the Microhouse movement of yore.


The producer does not just get hold of the past, he aurally visualizes it by creating and maintaining the various time loops. When I write that Millennium is a timeless artifact, I mean it in the metaphorical sense once I apply this to the sound layers themselves. For several minutes on each track, change does not appear. Everything is streamlined. All ingredients are immediately introduced and do not mutate anymore. This very Detroit-y scheme does work to the album’s advantage, Quinn is definitely capable of so much more, but delivers way less and makes this deliberate minimalism the album’s seal of quality! There is not one single dud on this album, and I recommend it highly to those listeners who embrace the analogue and synth-heavy realms of Ambient, although the heaviness does not lead to submergence here, as it appears in a controlled, oftentimes accurately reduced manner. I do not want to recommend a particular track, as all of them are treasured tidbits whose color range mirrors the front artwork perfectly, but if I had to name at least one track to showcase the album’s languorous characteristics, I would choose the title track due to its audaciously mesmerizing sylphlike breezes and micro transmutations. Millennium (the album) is one of the huge surprises of 2013 for me, and I can only recommend this sÿnthorama to every Ambient fan alike.



Further listening and reading:

  • You can purchase and listen to Millennium in full at Bandcamp.
    The bonus track is included in the download version only.
  • Follow Adam Quinn on Twitter: @AdamQuinnMusic.



Ambient Review 237: Adam Quinn – Millennium (2013). Originally published on Jul. 10, 2013 at