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Pariah - Here From Where We Are Music Album Reviews

Eight years after releasing his first UK bass single, London’s Arthur Cayzer offers a debut LP of ambient music whose invocation of canonical tropes plays like a love letter to the resurgent genre.

News of a revival—of a particular sound, style, or trend forgotten by the mainstream—usually means only that the news-bearer hasn’t been paying attention. Adherents know better. Most of the time, these tastes have been thriving out of sight for years. But as much as die-hard fans may scoff at recent talk of an ambient revival, it’s hard to deny that contemplative, beatless strains of electronic music have become more active, and are enjoying more widespread appeal, in recent years. Pariah’s Here From Where We Are is just the latest indicator that the gentle genre is in rude health.

Pariah (London’s Arthur Cayzer) emerged in 2009, bearing a sleek and soulful variant of the UK bass that was then bubbling up in the work of artists like Burial and James Blake. Following the one-two punch of his debut single, “Detroit Falls,” and its follow-up EP, Safehouses, he surmised that he would begin work on his debut album “in the next year or so.” But what he described as “pretty bad writer’s block” must have been worse than he imagined, because that debut long-player ended up taking eight years. In the intervening span, he was productive, but not prolific. There was a quick run of EPs, all for R&S, between 2010 and 2012; from 2011 through 2014, he and Blawan, a fellow Brit known for his brutalist techno, put out three EPs under their collaborative alias Karenn.

Cayzer’s debut solo LP finds him sounding like a different artist entirely. That’s good: In the early years, even at his best, there was little in his music that sounded truly original. You could hear him working through his influences, striving to create something true to himself, but not quite breaking free from the pull of his forebears and peers. In his defense, there was a lot of that at the time; UK bass exerted a powerful gravitational force. He finds more freedom in ambient music.

Not that Here From Where We Are sounds radically original; Cayzer is working with well-worn ideas. But ambient has been around long enough that originality feels less important in that tradition than it does in a supposedly cutting-edge sound like UK bass. In its invocation of canonical tropes, the album often feels like a love letter to the genre. The bright and triumphant opening track, “Log Jam,” is evocative of Oneohtrix Point Never covering Philip Glass, and from there Pariah surveys new-age drift, field recordings, the chillout-room languor of Global Communication, the wide-eyed chord progressions of Boards of Canada. “Rain Soup,” with its swirl of wind chimes and precipitation, sounds keyed to the current vogue for sound baths. The title track, with its major-key chords and veiled shimmer, carries the faintest hint of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois’ Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks.

Cayzer’s keen ear and judicious touch are crucial to the album’s success. Ambient music, particularly when it’s this pretty, risks falling into a formless goop, but Pariah is good at creating tension. After “Log Jam” builds to a shuddering climax—the album hits its energetic peak just four minutes into its 40-odd minute run—its segue into the regal organ drones of “Pith” feels like leaping off a cliff and then hang gliding in lazy circles above verdant fields. “Linnaea” begins with slow, underwater strings and then moves in fits and starts toward the light, like Gavin Bryars’ “The Sinking of the Titanic,” but in reverse, with interlocking triplet and eighth-note patterns that gradually assume sharp, crystalline outlines as they play off one another. (If Boards of Canada make music inspired by the warbly, film-stock look and feel of vintage nature documentaries, “Linnaea” would make an excellent soundtrack for one of today’s hi-def explorations of the mysteries of the deep.)

It’s the interplay between those arpeggios that makes the song so quietly gripping: By almost imperceptibly shifting emphasis across his narrow set of elements—now it’s the triplets you notice, now the eighth notes, now a naïve, flute-like melody—Cayzer creates an almost narrative sensibility, never mind that the music doesn’t actually do that much beyond simply cycling in place. The same could be said for most of Here From Where We Are. Like all agreeable ambient music, it burbles away in the background, invisible right up until the moment you notice it—a little like the ambient revival itself.

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