Off Land






It is increasingly improbable for an Ambient artist – any Ambient artist really – to keep releasing material on the same label time and again, but when it happens and all label-jumping is left aside, excitement ensues when you’re a fan, but especially so if you’re a reviewer for the time being, for one gets to ask him- or herself all the questions of supernal importance. Not only is it possible to contrast the former work with the current one, it is also interesting to note possible discrepancies in regard to both the realization of the intrinsic concept and the perceived compatibility with the label’s back catalog. The bold letters and front artwork already give it away: I’m talking about Bostonian synthesist Off Land aka Tim Dwyer’s Quinarian, the follow up to 2013’s Tidewater Pulse, available to purchase and stream at Bandcamp. Both albums are released on Keith Downey’s Dublin-based Psychonavigation Records. The man who picked up Gel-Sol’s rotatory reticulation of pugnacious plunderphonics called IZ (2008) and K8ema (2010) keeps on releasing the mellow mica of Tim Dwyer, although nothing is amethystine about Quinarian. The title freely gives the concept away and the artist adheres to it until the last of the five tracks is played. Yes, five. The adjective quinary describes being fifth in rank and is a – now antediluvian – chiefly British zoological concept of classifying the whole wealth of animals into five subcategories, and each of these subcategories into five classes. Not exactly a topic that’s predestined for a Sunday brunch, but all the more fitting in the New Age context Off Land’s music is located in. Concentrating on the feathered species and occasionally aquatic habitats, Quinarian basks in lactalbumin and emits a grayish glow. Here is a more meticulous look – in five paragraphs, naturally – at a luring album which only lacks substance in terms of one specific field.


While Quinary is advertised as a Space Ambient album, its gateway and point of origin is eminently rhizomatic. Genuflecting amidst nature in order to advance to a titration process that increases the amount of dark matter, Tim Dwyer chooses the lanthanoid Veery as the opener. Dedicated to the North American speckled thrush and aglow with translucent field recordings of dawn choruses which protrude the pericarp of the fibrillar reticulation, it is the wadded array of silvery synth pads where the album’s superimposition is truly enshrined. The arrangement of pulsating piano prongs, sprinkler-like woodpecker rhythms and cautiously pentatonic illuminants both interpolate and augment the cleavage of earthbound epiphany and glaucous galaxies. Willfully retrogressive in order to absorb the 70’s New Age wisps and convert them into polyfoil potassium pulses, Veery’s sinews are tensile and awash with bright nebulae yet aeriform enough to deny this piece a sumptuously histrionic ethereality.


The process of purification is continued in the adjacent Soar, though in a different manner. Instead of caproic acids, the composition – fraught with meaning – ascends and clambers. Tones in major are no accidental foreign substances but located in the epicurean epicenter. Seraphic synth streams flow through the aureate antrum, ablaze with majestic luminosity, covering the darkness via their agglutinated cross-linkage. Antimonic wind chimes round off the vibrant physiognomy. Soar is situated in a curious spot. It could well have been a superb closer due to its magnanimously benignant intensity. But Off Land has different things in mind, the journey is far from being over, as the following Turnstone functions as a temporary turnabout in that its ingredients recall the photometry of the opener. The atmosphere is again more argentine and viscoelastic once the titular bird searches for food at the shingle beach. Even though Turnstone internalizes some rays of Soar’s golden shimmer, the hexangular carefreeness decreases and paves the way to a viridian vestibule of maraca-accentuated terminals, retrojected reverberations and pluvial vesicles such as hollowly slapped strings and vermillion jitters. Naturally, Off Land caulks the looming darkness with a mélange of sustained synths. Withdrawn and remote but being positively contemplative in lieu of petrifying, one gets the feeling that Turnstone is nonetheless moving toward a blissful state, all of its mucoid cloudlets notwithstanding.


Despite Quinarian’s intrinsic focus on the number five, it is the fourth track that serves as the primary peritoneum, with its dimension being especially cardinal. Shearwater is the name of the plummeted friend, its existence lasting for 19+ minutes. That this is the centerpiece is no surprise if the artist’s name is correlated with the bird’s habitat: as a seabird, it flies over the surface of the water… off land. Even if one elbows such connotative alliances away – it’s about the music after all – they add another layer to the parallax depth of field. Shearwater is consequentially diversified. It is one of those tracks that could be called progressive, itself a term that is derided more often nowadays, having lost its meaning almost entirely. In this here case, I apply it in order to describe the endemic textural variety. Shearwater starts in a glacial spot. Covered with hoarfrost, filled with gyring galactic pulses and streamlined synth superfluids, later stops see Tim Dwyer fathom the existence of thinned streams that are calcined to the state of mere sine tones; echoey field recordings of birds cover the portentous quandary of nothingness. In a faithful turn of events, the synths are soon resurrected and leave the listening subject with the – now much more euphonious – chromaticity of the main theme. Kestrel ultimately ends the journey and is another all-important track, ostensibly for the purpose of fulfilling both the dignity of the number five and the meaning of the album title. The eponymous falcon sees its aural apparition hued in a glinting four-note motif whose quadrate punctilio spirals in front of benthic drones, the latter of which are rather pressing and immediate. More of a hydrazine helix than a streamlet of susurration, they form the contrapuntal bokeh to the purified four-note convulsion in the foreground. A most fitting dichotomy once all parts of Quinarian are considered.


A Space Ambient album is proclaimed – an elysian/aerial sanctuary delivered. Whether that’s false advertising, a wrong ascription or an unintended contretemps is up to whom it may concern; it does not change the value of Off Land’s Quinarian as a tangible New Age album that absconds from a potentially opaque dimension of nullity. In lieu of lavishly texturized stardust surfaces, bodacious planetary dioramas and white-knuckle ventures beyond the solar system, Tim Dwyer’s work remains wondrously human… humane even in its treatment of animals. The cajoling temptation of the open space exploration is farther away than ever. Quinarian feels like a soon to be verdured cotyledon: a fragile grain lying idly in increasingly rich alluvial soils. Dank and moist, soon mucoid, then aqueous, finally soaked in the saccharified aureoles of liquid light beams, Quinarian ultimately takes the water-driven molecules of Tim Dwyer’s previous album on Psychonavigation Records and rearranges them to assure the compatibility with the ornithological cannelure. This is not to say that Off Land succumbs to Aqua Ambient (Aquambient? Oh my!) adventures in the veins of Fontaine’s hazy Impossible Walls (Inner Ocean Records, 2014), Thom Brennan’s abyssal/ethereal Vibrant Water (Raingarden Music, 2001) or, heck, even System 7’s Prog Rock-infested arpeggio aureole Point 3: Water Album (Butterfly Recordings, 1994). It is instead an artifact made of dusky immaculateness coupled with meditative soothingness. The result is an echopraxia of New Age in the best sense, absenting itself from voluptuous synth streams and opulently vertiginous grandeurs. The aesthetic dualism of Quinarian is the golden thread, traversing each of the five tracks like a mercurial river. Off Land keeps the freshness, injects gaseous purity, annihilates mephitic peripheries and cuts his arrangements off from chlorotic asphyxiation. Weightlessly adrift on the surface of the ocean, enter the fifth element: Quinarian.


Further listening and reading:


Ambient Review 389: Off Land – Quinarian (2014). Originally published on Nov. 12, 2014 at