16 October 2020 (released)
15 March 2021
These days, atmosphere is everything. Indie to hip-hop, EDM to post-metal, everyone is adding layers of texture to give their sound an added depth. Some chords and a beat won't get you all the way, you need the atmosphere to put your signature stamp on your sound. Synthesizers and virtual instruments (VSTs) have granted musicians a cornucopia of sounds to make their sonic fingerprints their own. So many compositions are being given a “haunting” or “ethereal” layer and that's a really great thing. As with most things in the world of music nerd-dom, there's a debate over analog vs. digital methods. Digitally created sounds can deliver a seemingly endless supply of aural options to play with but there is something ineffable that happens when those textures are performed by human hands. Even if those sounds go on to be manipulated digitally via pedals and digital audio workstation (DAW) editing, having them start with an organic source gives them an intrinsically natural feel that goes above and beyond the strictly computerized. The chaos and nuance inherent in a live performance make a track come alive in ways that are not necessarily noticeably observed but felt.
The master of atmosphere, the legendary Daniel Lanois is a big proponent of that organic approach. The albums he produces but even more so his solo works, are built on these densely woven tapestries of samples birthed from real live instruments. He may rely heavily on his Korg SDD-3000 delay which works on the basis of digital copying and he cuts and pastes together his samples using technology but the sounds originate from real sources, often his richly overdriven Les Paul or his seraphic pedal steel. With these colours, he paints transcendent soundscapes that elevate the tracks to entirely new heights.
The Oregon duo Moon and Bike embrace that same philosophy and by consequence, have crafted an album that sails and transcends much like Lanois' genius works. With Boone Johnson recording his nimble acoustic framework from picturesque Bend, Oregon and Michael Swanson laying down his ambient effected electric guitars, bass, and keyboards from Portland, these old friends have managed to weave together an intricately intertwined album that transports the listener to another plane. Johnson's gorgeous passages would be enough to sustain the album on their own but with the integration of Swanson's luxuriously cascading textures, Moon and Bike's One goes beyond a mere acoustic instrumental record (which can become tedious even with the most skilled players) and becomes the score to a deeply immersive experience.
The influence of natural landscapes can be felt throughout the record. The opener 'River' has a calm hypnotic movement recalling a sunny day at a mountain stream. Swanson's accompaniment of Boone's acoustic is tasteful, giving it a reverberant aura on which to float. The track 'Moon and Bike' dates back 25 years and became the inspiration for the project. Rising and falling lines are matched by playful countermelodies creating a sense of innocent joy. 'Two of Us' has Swanson beginning to add some overdrive to the guitars to give them a nice bit of breakup. Low register chords swell with waves of fuzz while higher lines soar over Johnson's clean, chiming acoustic strums. Absolutely beautiful tones.
'Roads' winds through roaming country hills and into darker passes. The gently rolling intro evolves into more sinister chords with stabs of delayed electric shrills, eventually coming back to find the way home. 'Native' demonstrates the deep interplay between these two musicians with brilliantly intertwined lines to a funkier tune that sits deeply in the pocket without the support of a rhythm section. 'Star' takes us out into a clear country night. Swanson's electric lines linger like streaking comets as Johnson keeps up a mesmerizing set of arpeggios. Their final statement 'Voyager' sums up the duo's sense of cosmic wonder in a shimmering finale. The echoes of dreamy guitar textures undulate out into the universe while Johnson's organic guitar keeps our toes in the dirt.
One is a near-perfect example of the atmosphere that can be created by two deeply in-sync musicians with a cinematic sense of composition. The album is fundamentally transportive and meditative. Johnson and Swanson are both gifted players but they never clamour to overplay, to cram in more notes than are necessary to convey their vision. Each part serves to allow the listener to free their mind and transcend. The record is also elegantly mixed in a way that can only be achieved with having a few instruments. The full frequency range is able to be harvested so you can enjoy everything from the deep, throaty overdrive of Swanson's lower passages to the sparkling highs of Johnson's fingerpicked licks. For those who are standing on the shoulders of masters like Daniel Lanois, this is a solid entry into the pantheon of atmospherics.