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Félicia Atkinson/Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - Limpid as the Solitudes Music Album Reviews

The duo’s second collaborative album is an enveloping matrix of sounds both familiar and unfamiliar—a form of ambient music that refuses to recede into the background.

For Félicia Atkinson, sound is pretty much sentient. She calls it a “live presence” that “can get inside people, get in and out as it pleases.” Her music works under a central assumption: We merely share the world with all the sonic phenomena swirling all around us. It’s this reverence for the spiritual side of sound, as well as its omnipresence, that has made the French experimental musician’s catalog so fascinating. She deploys a bevy of tools and techniques—voice, assorted synths, field recordings, and numerous passages of unknown origin—to achieve uncanny effects. Her songs can generate strange, psychoacoustic sensations; the buzz and static of her compositions can in ring your ears like insects trapped in your skull.

The New York ambient musician Jefre Cantu-Ledesma has similar proclivities, using a tsunami of guitar dissonance and echo to create formidable and emotional noise recordings. Limpid as the Solitudes is the pair’s second collaborative album, and it is a brain-teasing exercise in sonic manipulation. Combining animal groans, rumbling weather fronts, and busy urban landscapes with surreal synths and lulling drone, the project is the perfect middle ground for Cantu-Ledesma’s sculptural approach and Atkinson’s fantastical mindset.

The four compositions on Limpid as the Solitudes reveal few clues as to how they were made. There’s a sort of alchemy at work in the way the two create a pool of noise and echo in which sounds bob like buoys in a wine-dark sea. On the opener, “And the Flowers Have Time for Me,” they introduce countless little details across a nearly six-minute span, creating a fully realized world to inhabit: what might be a crowd jostling in public transit, the pulse of an EKG machine, naked flesh rubbing up against coarse fabric, doors opening and closing, water pouring from a carafe, birds chirping, storms cloud gathering on a sunny day. Undergirding it all is the simultaneously calming and queasy rumble of synthesizers and the hiss of what might be tape delay.

The effect that this slow accumulation of so many familiar and unfamiliar sounds creates is disorienting. The music’s easy flow invites relaxation, but its many subtle shifts make it hard to drift away, and the way they force dozens of contrasting textures together can be quietly jarring. This is especially true of “Her Eyelids Say,” which sounds like two extremely different songs playing in parallel. On one side, there’s what feels like an alien abduction, with tractor beams buzzing overhead; crawling, creeping, buzzing bodies moving all around; and fluids dripping into a receptacle. On the other side is a patient progression of piano notes that might be the rehearsal for a recital.

What makes Limpid as the Solitudes such an excellent ambient release isn’t just the rigor of its formal experimentation. Like William Basinski, these two know how to make a song that spills and mixes into the listener’s own environment. The album’s centerpiece, the 18-minute “All Night I Carpenter,” is a wide, rich, and open space that folds nearly all of the record’s previous sounds into a warm whirlpool of hum. Whatever else is happening around you at the time gets sucked into the mix: A hissing heater or a honking horn might be confused for a purposeful gesture. That randomness, that possibility of a song changing with every listen, multiplies Limpid as the Solitudes’ many rewards.

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