It Billows Up by Sontag Shogun

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Sontag Shogun | It Billows Up
Youngbloods (LP/CD/DL)

This trio of Ian Temple, Jeremy Young and Jesse Perlstein combine field recordings, keyboards, tapes and electronics to create a delicate sound that is as if you are streaming in and out of consciousness. They deploy a deft hand when it comes to ambient textures that toy with melodic memory, and low-end hiss and crackle. By incorporating voice transmissions there is some haunting built-in as the tracks slyly fold into one another.

Expertly mastered by Rafael Anton Irisarri, with an ear for the most subtle of nuances, It Billows Up, on the Brooklyn imprint Youngbloods, drifts in and out of an interesting pop ambient paradigm (think Dead Can Dance, Sigur Ros, perhaps latter day Robin Guthrie). It’s the between-ness itself, the airy melody a lilting vocalese, that give this its ingratiating personality. That said, it’s held together by these cool abstract chasms (Clstrs) that seem as if you are walking down a hallway, past rooms where you are only catching momentary glimpses of variegated goings-on that keeps shifting.

Sontag Shogun reveal bits and pieces of a modern fable with each vignette here. The mood pivots from inwardly melancholic to warmly lit, depending on your personal perspective, and could be mistaken for either/or depending on your passing glance or deep listen (this is the type of sound that would engage either actually). They have some in common with the Kranky sound of the 90s, but are enlightened by the years hence. I am intrigued greatly by the vocal halo treatment on the title cut, the way in which it recedes into ether, like a glazed apparition.

The mumbling voices on Kienast Dans Un Parc overlap with squeaks and tweets, and you’d be lucky if you caught every third utterance, about social media, technology, warped astray. This could be viewed as something like an epilogue to the ten-minute closer, Cages. In a fusion between samples and strings, piano and stretched vocal, lies a piece with some in common to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, as imagined through the filter of this very moment. Quite effective is the way in which they layer a percussive beat into the gray area of subliminality.

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