Chris Herbert






After a mere eight years, Ambient artist Chris Herbert is ready to release his second full-length debut. That’s neither eight weeks as is the case with the time span of Vaporwave productions, nor eight months which is the equivalent to a New Age producer’s statistical output, but eight years! A lot has happened since Herbert's debut Mezzotint (Kranky, 2006) and the shiny new album Constants, released in September 2014 on Lawrence English’s Queensland, Australia-based label Room40, but thankfully, the aesthetic superiority is still embroidered in every patch, stem, cell, hertz. While the artist from Kings Heath, Birmingham brought us the glacial glissé Wintex–Cimex 83 at the end of 2013 as an appetizer of the nucleic apotheosis to come, the lure of a whole album is still going strong, even in those hectic times where its death is proclaimed on every corner. But now they're finally here: ten tracks which enshrine various vignettes and several segues for the listener to enjoy. This free fluxion of attached appendixes, addenda and supplements is certainly the tendency that is inherited from Wintex–Cimex 83, thereby transforming Constants into a similarly polyhedric conductor path. The color of the front artwork – and this review’s header image, I might add – is Pantone 5645, a monochrome one-dimensional diorama of lactal languor. Luckily, the aural existence of Constants adds a few dimensions to its physiognomy, resulting in a strong sense of wideness, compression and immediacy. Dreamy and soothing most of the time, with infinitesimally enigmatic contrapuntal slivers embedded few and far between, Constants breathes pre-millennial analogue arabesques and exhales a lucent modernist approach that is prone to enthrall while uniting cohesion with sudden shifts.


The gateway to Chris Herbert’s Constants is titled As Blue As Your Eyes Lover, and to be honest, it is a very strange title for an actually wondrously dithery soundscape. The Pop connotations of the title and my love for saccharine Space-Age whim-wham notwithstanding, the movement showcases a polylayered superimposition of aureate synth placentas, glacial piano droplets, stokehold heating circulation pumps, elasticized cymbals and – thank you so much – a few quasi-historical Glitch clicks and blebs. Seemingly retrogressive in a good way, the opener offers a fibrillar reticulation of remoteness and truly uplifting tones in major. And it is jam-packed with textures, much more keen on micro movements and appended vestibules rather than the stabilized stature the album title suggests. It is an important first marker for both the zoetropic whirring and gusts of thermal heat that are yet to come. Said heat turns mephitic in the adjacent Cinders, but as we all know, there are lifeforms that are quite happy about sulfurous-asphyxiating habitats. The titration of Cinders hence amends its cherubic-lilac bokeh with hazy roll clouds while still adhering to a sultry viscidity. After its apex, the piece opens up and turns into an actually exciting doldrums phase, making room for the synths to flow in the foreground, now surrounded by post-processed field recordings of birds. Resembling jittery static noise entities, these plumed fellows serve yet again as tastefully antediluvian fibers, an echopraxia of the past.


Cité Radieuse meanwhile spawns a vitreous chromaticity and could have been integrated into Chris Herbert’s previous EP Wintex–Cimex 83 alright: pink noise glaciers hued in cyan syringa, luminescent elasticized chime layers, distant temple bells, all of these devices merge into a pristine purity whose glacial frequency range is situated somewhere in an arcane antrum of aggrandized aureoles. This city radiates and shines on indeed. Up next is Spirit Copy, a gorgeously soothing illuminant of laid-back synth washes, ligneous cracks and senescence. In lieu of piercing protrusions or a full-throttle immersion, the listening subject seems to experience the afterglow of an incident from a faraway place. Having the crackling sparks upfront and the scintillating cannelure in the back adds much to the plasticity of the arrangement. And best of all is the soothingness, the lilac languor of the meandering keys; one feels safely embedded in these undercurrents. In the meantime, Sea Holly maintains the endemic equilibrioception that runs through this album. Uniting an oneiric drone diorama with a technocratic thiazide in the shape of a moving train, Chris Herbert creates the oxymoron of progressive standstill. The clattering train is softened, altered, ameliorated. The second phase then enchants enormously with utterly insouciant synth cloudlets, aerose cymbal shards and various layering techniques that allow the interplay to be prismatic and spheroidal, making Sea Holly a particularly strong track.


Up until this point, the listener has been loved. That’s a tacky way of expression, I’m fully aware of this, but even the shadiest interstice only served as a catalyst for the incandescence of Constants. The track Zona changes this notion without appearing as a threatening force. Instead of softly blurred lines, it evokes a clandestine epithelium of beguiling arcaneness. Ecclesiastic organ flares float through argentine Angkor Wat kaleidoscopes, mysterious crackle-underlined braidings of polyelectrolytes spread their raucous rhizomes. This is basically a capsule for three to four micro movements of heterodox paroxysms, at least when contrasted with the album's intrinsic qualities. Crest changes this feeling and is the classical grower, not just in the aesthetic sense, but the geodetic one as well. What starts as a rectilineal Drone rivulet turns into a stupefying whitewater cataract, still monotonous in its tonality, but with a textural diversity that is anything but exciting. Microlensing then keeps the shape of a calorific flume whose consistency is based on micro flutters, furnace sounds and agglutinated aeriform fluxions. With the penultimate Disjxet, the artist adds a mysterious title to the roster, one that the seemingly self-explanatory opener did not show. And it is another strong epitome of multilayered frequency washes. Luring with aural aphorisms aquiver with mellifluousness and just a modicum of static fractals, this track eventually reveals the nullspace and pith within the heterodyned arabesques: an angelic chime cascade in its latter half which is then mercilessly elbowed away by a similarly bewitching synth uproar; an electrifying uproar! The finale comes in the shape of Former Shoreline, a synthetic beach aglow with various fir-green convulsions, distant clicks and chirping nightbirds. It is hard – and superfluous – to describe the immersion, the 3D effect this piece is able to erect. It is a great endpoint of a euphonious album by a magnificent artist.


Or should I write: a magnanimous artist? After all, it took Chris Herbert almost eight years to come up with a full-length follow-up to the bioluminescent cellscape Mezzotint, so one can certainly be glad that it arrived at all. My joy about the mere existence of Constants is already a boon to me; even better that this album turns out to be an elixir of erudite erethism. Herbert’s approach of merging the frequencies, decorticating their innermost essences and using these nutritious superfluids in order to create paradisiac pericarps is further refined, or to say it in a less prosaic manner: the unison of the drones and their plinking Glitch counterpoints regularly turns into something splendidly luring. The tone sequences are not necessarily memorable per se, this is no guitar-fueled Drone album after all. Instead, it is the textures, their serration and juxtaposition, their amalgamation and convolution, their simultaneity and ad-hoc incidental tryst that allow Constants to shine, awash with light, ablaze with colors, aware of its complexion. The sudden introduction of a new river of fibers occasionally feels like a violent tone burst, but once the listener dives deep into these peritoneal plasticizers, euphoria ensues. At first, it seemed wise to me to truly divide Constants and its antecedent EP Wintex–Cimex 83: the album is hot and humid, the EP solid and frosty. Makes for a great story and justifies the raison d’être of both artifacts, right? Now I am not so sure anymore, as Constants shares many a glagolithic Glitch glob with its forerunner. In addition, many of its legato lines are comparatively glacial. I am happy to say the EP does not tower over the album, nor is it vice versa. I just know that Constants is going to stay with me for a very long time, as is still the case with Mezzotint, Wintex–Cimex 83 and Chris Herbert’s various compilation tracks. See you in 2022, Chris?


Further listening and reading:


Ambient Review 376: Chris Herbert – Constants (2014). Originally published on Sep. 17, 2014 at