||Bob Holroyd takes his music in a drastically different direction on Afterglow. Eschewing his usual world fusion, which frequently marries ethnic chants to ambient/electronica rhythms and textures, Holroyd explores the same melancholic, somber minimalism that artists such as Harold Budd, Tim Story, and Kevin Keller have explored. The result is one of 2011's best releases, a richly evocative autumnal masterpiece which blends a neo-chamber esthetic with tone poem ambient keyboards, drones, and similar musings.
Holroyd plays keyboards and is credited with "processing." Guest artists on the CD (and their contributions are considerable to say the least) are Rebecca Carrington (cello), Kevin Robinson (horns), and Craig Joiner (acoustic guitars). The presence of Carrington and Robinson transports Holroyd's music into the realm of contemporary minimalist chamber music, especially when combined with Holroyd himself playing in a subtle, subdued style (especially his evocative sparse piano, first heard on the heartrendingly beautiful track ambient like snow). Joiner also deserves major props as on the tracks where he is featured, he interjects yet another fascinating element, with layers of his acoustic guitar adding a contemporary wrinkle to the minimalistic or ambient-ish mood.
Afterglow is one of those special recordings that gets better with each playing. With repetition, the music gradually reveals more of what it's all about (which can frequently happen with this type of ambient minimalism). The first playing evokes the more easily recognized emotional resonance, but as one delves into these tone poems over and over, one "hears" more, whether actually discovering more musical aspects or, instead, resonating on a deeper level with the introspection that lies at the music's core.
To Holroyd's credit, the longest track on the CD is only 5:27 and many songs clock in between 3 and 4 minutes in duration. This is a smart move on his part because this type of music could become wearying if it went on too long in the exact same vein. Like Tim Story (whose tragic trilogy of Beguiled, The Perfect Flaw, and Shadowplay epitomize this fusion of ambient minimalism and neo-classicism), Holroyd realizes that a lot of emotion can be conveyed by sparse melodies and confined to a short duration. Bravo that!
I'll briefly detail some of the 12 tracks. half light opens the album with somber waves of warm drones, supported by achingly sad cellos (multi-tracked) and horns - this cut just flat out blew me away emotionally when I first heard it. As mentioned above, "ambient like snow" showcases Holroyd's minimal piano style, accented by keyboard textures that subtly lighten the mood. mirror lakes begins with caressing cello melodies, overlapping each other, adding in some ambient textures (or maybe just processing of the cellos themselves) and a smattering of background horn (I'm listening on headphones so you may not detect this otherwise). A rich warm drone effect is achieved - quite blissful. empty vessel takes the music in a different direction, with a repeated guitar refrain by Joiner set against a backdrop of subtle synthesizer shadings and tonalities. The music shifts and traverses into shadowy, less distinct territory, with Holroyd adding an assortment of electronic colors and patterns, but the piece is anchored by that same guitar refrain (which, amazingly, never gets the slightest bit tiresome). The quirky, whimsical 27 words blends piano with somewhat playful-sounding synthesizer, the title track expresses a feeling of expansive tranquility, and the Richard Bone-esque charm of in the time we have left brings together a repeating synth sequence of bouncy effervescence with mournful strings and extremely sparse piano. The concluding finality of stillpoint and its gently rumbling keyboard drones over which hovers a warm yet haunting echoed horn and plaintive piano closes out the CD on a fantastic note.
I have no idea where this music came from inside of Bob Holroyd when compared to his body of previous work. Wherever he journeyed to in bringing Afterglow to life, I hope he returns some day and explores more of this landscape of stark beauty, intense somberness, and inviting pensiveness. Afterglow is easily one of the best releases of 2011 and, perhaps, the decade so far. It earns my highest recommendation.