Rainbows in the Dark is back once again in force. Even in years where there is seemingly an avalanche of great metal albums released, it is necessary to make sure that you don’t get new release tunnel vision and miss out on some great albums from across the rest of the genre spectrum. To that end, I’d like to talk about my love for ambient music and a great release from earlier in the year by Chicago’s Trevor de Brauw.
Ambient music is one of the genres I indulge in the most outside the world of metal, especially within the last few years. It’s my brand of escapism; I love the calming and centering properties it has on me, and its unique takes on structure, or lack thereof, is fascinating. It’s easy to find a good album and just tune out the world with it on, and I find myself doing this quite often on quiet evenings. Now 2017 has given me a great new addition to my ambient rotation in Trevor Shelley de Brauw’s Uptown.
If the name rings any bells, it’s because de Brauw is one of the founding members of the veteran post-metal outfit Pelican. After 20 years of guitar experimentation in the hard rock and metal world, Uptown, de Brauw’s first album as a solo artist, explores some of the more nuanced textures that the guitar is capable of. Named after a North Side neighborhood of Chicago (that coincidentally was one of my favorite stomping grounds in college), Uptown juxtaposes the claustrophobic feeling de Brauw felt living in a large city with the time spent on his ancestral North Carolina farm. The songs here build on bases of droning tones, adding subtle volume crescendos, airy tremolo picking, and even the occasional crunchy power chord for extra effect, building up and breaking apart just as fast. Having been a fan of Pelican’s music for many years now, there is a lot here that connects the dots between Pelican and de Brauw’s ambient work. This would be a good bridge album for someone who is dipping their toes into ambient for the first time, especially from the metal world. Uptown is at times more “maximalist” than most ambient music, which is good for those who are worried about being bored, yet the soothing drone and emotional resonance that marks the genre are present here in spades, particularly on the B-side of the album (“Turn Up For What”/”From the Black Soil Poetry and Song Sprang”).
Uptown is a great example of the versatility of the electric guitar, as well as what ambient music can achieve. Fans old and new of this genre will find much to love here, and I certainly hope my words have convinced you to give it a shot.