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Oren Ambarchi - Simian Angel Music Album Reviews

The Australian multi-instrumentalist pushes his wispy electroacoustic music into warmer, more melodic territory.

The Australian multi-instrumentalist Oren Ambarchi has made the single LP side his canvas. His wispy electroacoustic pieces tend to work best at 15 to 20 minutes a pop—compact enough to retain their focus, yet roomy enough to reward immersion. Simian Angel demonstrates Ambarchi’s mastery of the form across a pair of aqueous ambient explorations shot through with loosely tangled melodic lines.

Simian Angel has the free-associative drift of his loosest improv pieces and a sublimated sense of groove. It opens tentatively, with a watery, synth-like tone drizzled over Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista’s patient, pitter-pat conga slaps. Two minutes pass like this, then four; in the background, counterpoint synth pads glisten like frost on a field. Whatever instrument Ambarchi is playing—on the sleeve, he is credited simply with “guitars & whatnot”—his melodic figures have a searching quality, like water trickling downhill. Gradually, his tone fattens, and as Baptista trades the congas for gentle shaker rhythms, the spectrum fills with a thrumming, organ-like buzz. It ends as gradually as it began, settling into the root note like an old house cooling after a hot summer’s day.

On the B-side, the title track offers a more vigorous take on the same basic material. It opens with a twangy, percussive pattern played on the berimbau—an acoustic string instrument capable of psychedelic pitch-shifting and tremolo effects—that gives the track a forceful push. That momentum carries “Simian Angel” across its 20-minute runtime, even though Baptista sits out for long stretches. Here, Ambarchi uses his guitar first to conjure those organ-like tones (an effect he achieves by running his instrument through a Leslie speaker, whose tremolo is closely associated with the sound of the Hammond organ) and then a bright, crisp facsimile of acoustic piano. Both tracks are powered by melodic instincts that have rarely played such a dominant role in Ambarchi’s music. Over the years, he’s shown us plenty of sides to his playing—brainy, brawny, barely there—but on Simian Angel, we get a glimpse of something new: something sensitive, probing, and even whimsical.

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