23 February 2018 (released)
12 April 2018
The subconscious is such an extraordinarily imprint-able canvas. It collects the finest detail from every experience and interaction of every second of our lives. Our concept of “memories” is greatly dwarfed by the sheer volume of data that we constantly soak into our subconscious. So much so, that we will never be able to truly understand the profound and lingering effects that it has on our day to day actions. These trillions of bits of memetic information are tamped down in our waking lives but are left to run amok when we sleep, when we dream. Like little viruses of thought, they are constantly shaping us and there is nothing we can do to stop them. We can only attempt to put ourselves in situations that give our subconscious positive things on which to feed itself.
In any form of music, there are cues that the artist takes from their subconscious and manifests into their art. However, these effects can be observed most vividly in ambient music. Without the distraction of lyrics, the focus is squarely put on the intangible and unlike other forms of instrumental music who have other goals, like to make you dance, ambient music shines a light directly on the cerebral. It places the listener in the nebulous, tempestuous and ultimately alone atmosphere of their own mind. From there, like a meditation, it can reflect back to you the person you have become.
The albums of Ryan Summers do just that. They strip away the veil of quotidian life and allow you to hear what's going on beyond it. Like the quiet you feel at 4:30 in the morning when there is not another soul around and the only noises are the wind and the machinery sustaining our society through to the next morning. It should come as no surprise that Summers suffers from persistent insomnia, though with it being such a creative force in his writing, he doesn't suffer for nothing. The moods on his albums could only be birthed by someone whose mind is in that state. His last album F51.01 (the medical code for insomnia) brilliantly displayed the process of the sleep-deprived mind flowing from intense over-thought to zen-like thoughtlessness. The sounds had an icy aura to them, like a barren ice sheet with relentless ticking rhythms denoting the sluggish passage of time.
Almost exactly a year after releasing F51.01, Ryan Summers is back with ii, a darker album that courses with more passion than its predecessor. The content still remains fundamentally detached from daily activities but it is evident that the darkness, uncertainty, and bewilderment of the current societal climate is seeping into our collective unconscious in a very real way and fundamentally altering our incorporeal selves. Summers denotes that the taking in of information, however casually from social media, has had a palpable effect on him and it has shaped the record's underlying motif. This theme is presented in an absolutely gorgeous album that unplugs the listener as if in a sensory deprivation chamber, clearing the mind with lush, reverberant sonics. This is aided by a specially-crafted reverb plate that Summers has added to his arsenal of late to give all the sounds a warm, analog, ethereal glow.
The title of the opener 'Nightshift' once again references Summers' nocturnal tendencies. Beyond simple restlessness, dark thoughts are preventing sleep from coming. Popping in and out of the mind as it wanders. Waves of dissonance swell and dissipate in brassy surges. The ebullient synths oscillate with increasing frequency like a spinning top achieving its optimal spin. 'Sci-Fi Sequence' pulses with the intensity of a car chase, without the tribal thunder drums. 'Transactive Memory Partner' reaches back in your psyche with a music box like timbre. Hinting at the aural cues of children's toys morphed through an adult's unconscious memory. 'March of the Elephants' continues the more playful tone with a whimsically plodding rhythm and a trumpeting fanfare. The far-off buzzing and militaristic march timed melody make 'Hypnotic Drones' paint a dystopian picture of what's to come. Like looking into a crystal ball to see the faults in our trajectory. 'From the Coneflower' bubbles with intrigue as singing bowl ringing is surrounded by ominous whispers. The rumblings of conspirators.
Ryan Summers has once again produced an exquisite piece of haunting, yet subtle ambient art. In the dulled aura of the late night hours, all sensations are tempered and contextualized. Being that it is instrumental, there is plenty of room for interpretation. One listener may find it a warm, welcoming collection of life-affirming songs and another may find it a dark, brooding collection of soundscapes. When put side by side with his previous album, the attuned listener will notice a sinister overtone that was far less prevalent in F51.01. However, the same genius remains and this album is another triumph by this impressive ambient architect.