Quiet Nights, Lonesome Woods is a very mysterious and shady t(h)ree-track Ambient EP by the Chicago-based Dronemeister Cinchel aka Jason Shanley, self-released in June 2013 and available to purchase (name your price) and listen to in full at Bandcamp. With only one Drone track embedded in its table of contents, Shanley fathoms out the Dark Ambient side of things and creates partly monstrous and quasi-poeticizing interpretations of the surprisingly noisy life in a forlorn wood. At night. It is the first album where Shanley really lets the music speak for itself, with only the album title and track titles guiding the listener by creating the overarching and obvious but nonetheless wondrously spine-tingling theme. It becomes harder and harder for me to understand how the luminary can camouflage the characteristic traits of his signature instrument – the guitar – so overly well, but rest assured that this is again the case here. Even diehard Cinchel fans might be potentially bewildered by the shift in production techniques. Instead of serpentine Drone flumes, the structures in-between the fissured sounds become more important. In addition, Cinchel recruits many curious ornaments that further ennoble the uneasy mystique of the forest by adding counterintuitive but superbly working elements to the scenery. There is much to rave about Quiet Nights, Lonesome Woods, and likewise much to fear. Before I dive deeper into these woods, let me once more stress that Dark Ambient fans will get the very most out of it, and that even Drone fans are not entirely given up by Cinchel. A comforting thought in these grim landscapes.
Cinchel kicks off the album with a Dark Ambient brute, and yes, adjacent genres like Doom are interwoven here as well. The opener is called Moonlit Trees, and the track title does not only explicate the topos, surrounding and nighttime, it most exquisitely hints at the creepy interstitial structure this arrangement spawns. Listeners who are also fond of the video game culture might think of the infamous prelude of Capcom’s Resident Evil. Helicopter-like rotor bass blebs sound like birds of steel flying over a jinxed copse (or is that corpse?), and since anything else is heard in this anacrusis but the brazen staccato, its sawtooth physiognomy becomes all the nastier and drier. While this state of affairs is anything but creepy, the first additions to this alkaline asbestus swamp are – of all things! – Space-Age artifacts à la wobbling laser sounds, warp engine barks and New Age-oid chime apparitions whose multitudinous phasing stages create a strange counterpart that does not lessen the bile via a potential form of delight, but reversely augments the drama. Ecclesial organ-esque guitar rivers float through the lacunar structures and hollows between the trees. Plinking sine tones, Geiger counter gallimaufries, unreal gales and cyber crickets ameliorate the horror of this execrated soil. Moonlit Trees is Cinchel’s most experimental and inherently frightening track at the time of publishing this review. The guitar prongs mimic an orchestra of cacophonous strings, and once these strings start to screech, their dualistic complexion of ethereality and pandemonium is eminently bewildering. A gargantuan shock-and-awe demon in the form of a song. That this tune was created in the greater area of Chicago instead of Scotland’s eldritch highlands or Norway’s rambling forests is beyond me. Naturally.
In the given cinematic fearsomeness of Moonlit Trees, the remaining two noise tracks fall just a bit flat, for this tune is just too megalomaniac and grandiloquent to ignore. This aural suppressor in the shape of the sword of Damocles even lingers in the following Tiny Woodland Creatures which turns out to be another dichotomous hydra. Jason Shanley propitiates a rural bonfire rusticity with a New Age-like simulation of goblet drums. The strangely metallic yet translucent globs resemble these drums terrifically well, but most certainly derive from a heavily processed guitar, the latter of which is also present in the fluent form of a screeching fluxion. What follows is a delicate interplay between variously silkened chimes and enchantingly multi-colored bells, again, all of them fake by their very nature, but unleashing a somewhat positive, even embracing vibe. Polymorphous, multifaceted and hyperlayered, these incidents take place in front of a black backdrop of nothingness which is only ever so slightly annihilated by piercing guitar coils and wooden clicks. Quirky and arcane at the same time, Tiny Woodland Creatures is torn between magic and mystique, legato washes and martelato mélanges, but feels first and foremost always positively ligneous and fir-green.
On to the third track: the finale is called Reflecting Pools, a counter reaction to the previous two tracks which were few and far between the beloved Drone formula. In this piece, Cinchel finally succumbs to the power of this genre (enter mad laughter here). Just a tad shy of 16 minutes, Reflecting Pools introduces the listener to acroamatic wind gusts, stormy weathers and a beautifully warm thermal heat-evoking guitar string which oscillates between benignancy and ferocious foils. Crickets and insects are simulated via chordal screeches, bone-crushing bass riverbeds flow in close proximity to the shrubbery, and once the ethereal-gaseous synth-oid trade winds are in place, Reflecting Pools opens up and resembles Cinchel’s spacey live performance which he released as Isolation Experiments Vol 1 in January 2013. Best of all is the amplification of the synth-like surfaces: they successfully fight the raging storm, even though they are undoubtedly perturbed by it and start to wobble, tremble and shake from time to time. That Boards of Canada feeling of nostalgia and harmed tape reels comes to mind. More than eight minutes into the track, and Reflecting Pools does not only lighten up another time by elbowing away its foggy complexion, but introduces airplane engine-like drone erections in front of crackling clicks, thus injecting another dark element which ever so slowly transmutates into cherubic washes of bliss and rapture that have to be heard to be believed. If for anything else, Cinchel’s plea of "please play at maximum volume" is enormously rewarding here. That the winds win in the end and the depicted wood remains an enigmatic life-threatening place is an almost comforting revelation.
Cinchel is no one-trick pony (maybe a pony, but not a one-trick pony), his guitar-based Ambient works draw from many side references such as Glitch, noisy layers and even infinitesimal Metal instances, but Quiet Nights, Lonesome Woods takes the macrocosm of the Chicago-based producer one bold step further. He leaves Drone largely behind and creates a manifesto for Dark Ambient fans and bearded foresters. Indeed, the crepuscular sound layers may be hard to swallow for many a fan, and I myself am incredibly lucky that I accidentally happen to like this – possibly temporary – direction. The first track Moonlit Trees is a beast of a daedal demon and recaptures the very notion of the European Romantic movement in the 18th and 19th century where the untamed wilderness was a mysterious place that enthralled many an erudite yet curious wanderer but also gave this pour soul goosebumps at best. This state of wonder is revisited here and in the following two tracks, although Moonlit Trees overwhelms the listener due to its adamantly baneful aura. The other two tracks are more reminiscent of Gas’ Königsforst (1999), if not via their tonal appearance, then due to the concept of the woods as a forlorn place of shelter that should be worshipped and respected, but not conquered at night. If you do, cross the paths at your own risk. Tiny Woodland Creatures is much friendlier, but unmistakably draped in the same melodramatic mysteries. The dance of these faux-goblet drums and firefly-like chimes is strangely nubile, but ultimately feels as if one illicitly observes an ancient ritual. The finale Reflecting Pools then caters to the Drone lovers. Gallons of gales and semi-euphonious synth-like wells float through the wide woodlands and let the EP become full circle again. No matter the refreshing beauty of the forest, Cinchel’s one is cursed. And it shows that the rhizomes of Jason Shanley’s guitar wizardry can indeed be entirely earthbound.
Update July 17, 2013: Cinchel told me via Twitter that not one single guitar graces the EP. This is a revelation alright! Only Korg Monotron synths and thumb pianos are to be found.
Further listening and reading:
- You can purchase (name your price) and listen to Cinchel’s EP in full at Bandcamp.
- Follow Cinchel at Twitter: @cinchel.
Ambient Review 240: Cinchel – Quiet Nights, Lonesome Woods (2013). Originally published on Jul. 17, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.