Tanner Garza & Matthew Barlow






Undae is a cryptic two-track Drone sparkler delivered by the duo of Houston, Texas-based Tanner Garza and Asheville, North Carolina's primary tapist Matthew Barlow, as he is also known for running the Twin Springs Tapes label. Curiously enough, Undae is not featured on any label – despite its pompous qualities – and sees an independent joint-release instead, so you can buy the digital-only work of 27 minutes at Bandcamp. Both the premise and promise of this work are not carved out by the artists themselves, there is only one given hint regarding its raison d’être, namely that in April 2013, Garza approached Barlow, they exchanged tape loops and reworked them into fully fleshed out Drone pieces of enigmatic yet embracing proportions. In the beginning of 2014, the result has finally been released. It is not clear to me or anyone else but the artists who did what on this release or whether the collaboration included post-processing and other important afterthoughts. I am willed to clear the mystery in a future interview with Matthew Barlow, but in the meantime – aka without being in the know as of yet – Undae is a mightily impressive work full of liquedous wind gusts, dry billows and fluttering ploys of phantom melodies vesiculating in the coruscating cauldrons. The two tracks Dunes and Kryten both share distinct qualities in that the artists carefully place the textures in order to create a wideness that is breathtaking. In addition, low frequency rivulets and heavy reverberations fuel the plasticity further. Here is a meticulous look at the two tracks.


It is as one expects, only to then infiltrate the anticipation and turn it into a recondite premonition: Dunes is the suspected Drone artifact, but its dark grandeur and aureate majesty come as a surprise and severely hit the listening subject without succumbing to the formula of Power Shoegaze. In fact, the prelude is wonderfully arcane due to its evocation of Angkor Wat ruins via vitreous veils, micro oscillations between their wind chime-esque glitters and the metallic sizzles of juxtaposed cymbals deriving from a classic drum kit. While the ginkgo atmosphere is actually climactic by means of rising the pitch of the sustained gongs ever so slightly, the real driving force in-between these agglutinating layers is found in the abyssal bass billows. They add depth in the true sense of the word and allow the hazy helix to intercommunicate with the murkier undercurrent. Heavily reverberated transfigurations of whiplashes round off the dichotomous aquatic/dusty scenery. The tone sequences might be positively monotonous, but there are textural expansions and surface-related deployments aplenty, be it the aforementioned pitch, the varying voluminosity of the strata or the alteration of the perceived temperature. Dunes ends with revved up low frequency cataracts, an admixed argentine granularity and afterglows of portent. Despite these abstract illuminants and the fibrillar megalomania, Dunes feels perfectly balanced and does neither entrap nor ostracize the listening subject. It is a remote place alright, but one whose rotatory cascades of dust – or dusk – do not materialize in the shape of New Age hyperboles. In fact, this first track shies away from any inordinacy and is therefore a superb attendant during tasks that demand one’s focus. It is both a vivid diorama and benthic background music at the same time!


In contrast, Kryten is less bone-dry and cauterized, probably a curious remark given that I have used aqueous vocabulary in my description of Dunes. Here on Kryten, however, the more verdured approach also translates to a loftier formation, with the synthetic wind gusts containing nutritious particles in aural form. Its name is also presumably inspired by the BBC vintage series from the 80's, Red Dwarf. But that's it in terms of cultural cross-linkage. Musically, right from the get-go, the wideness is larger, the parallax layers are free to unfold until they reach the sound-based horizon that is only limited by the frequencies and endemic constituents reigning in this piece of over 13 minutes. Tanner Garza and Matthew Barlow augment the reverberation even more, creating a breathing and exhaling varmint of stokehold mephitis and longitudinal freshness while gyring Morse code vesicles pulsate through the drafty area. The distant storms resemble bestial snores and seem to derive from overdriven guitar chords. My description of this track still lacks one fundamental adjuvant, a nucleic essence that multiplexes convulsions of delight, and that is the transcendental tone bursts amid the interstitial wind gusts. These vivaciously oscillating mirages turn out to be the track’s aureoles, its secret reticulation of reliance and faith. Encapsulating a Pop Ambient core surrounded by impressively wafting landspouts, these diaphanous shimmers are the lavabo in the lava, showcasing blurred clarity in Kryten’s already diffuse bokeh. It may be curious that these raging storms and oneiric air bubbles cannot blow away the diffuse moiré, the result, however, is yet another well-balanced titration of swooshing Space-Age grandeur bound to a sylvan earth.


Undae is one of those Drone gemstones that is going to stay with me. Its time-related boundaries, the high-quality buildup of the depicted sceneries, the textural variety and the perceived recognition of slowly swirling melodies that are actually not embroidered in the elysian turmoil make this two-track collaboration a superb listening experience. The hardest part to describe is the amalgamation of cinematic wideness in tandem with abundance and then to declare the pieces as focuses and somewhat minimal. This has probably to do with the absorption of the layers. Dunes for instance is (likely) based on a three-part setup – rumbling basslines, prolonged temple bell coils and echoey snares – but each of its pillars is so huge and permeable while still maintaining its distinct feature. It remains a catch–22 to fully understand, let alone describe these landscapes, but I do know that Garza & Barlow deliver a stupefyingly enthralling melting pot with Undae. The duo shies away from explaining who did what and which instrument is the primary source of the artistic tohubohu, but the basic premise, that of a tape loop, is masterfully hidden, for Undae harbors the best things about the Drone genre: embracing familiarity and omnipresent recurrences without genuflecting before arbitrariness. Maybe these pieces derive from coincidences, and indeed, a certain factor of insecurity cannot be ruled out, for it is still not clear how the collaboration truly unfolded, whether Tanner Garza is responsible for Dunes or whether he handed the tape loop to Matthew Barlow in order for him to ameliorate the stasis, but as the old adage goes, let the music speak about, grow over and tower above its creators. Undae is a great Drone two-parter whose whirling winds and grinding low frequency catalysts are still part of a harmonious whole.


Further listening and reading: 


Ambient Review 359: Tanner Garza & Matthew Barlow – Undae (2014). Originally published on Jul. 16, 2014 at AmbientExotica.com.