Ypsilon by Zahn / Hatami / McClure

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Zahn / Hatami / McClure | Ypsilon
N5MD (LP/DL)

One curious aspect of collaborative efforts is the degree to which the potentially diverse styles and approaches of those involved can lend themselves to a unified outcome or, as is often the case, instead proffer an award juxtaposition of incongruous voices.  By prioritising their existence as three separate composers – rather than a group working under a single moniker – Zahn, Hatumi, and McClure (the latter of whom is a contributor here at Toneshift) inevitably court such incongruity, yet thankfully the resulting album is both cohesive and surprisingly succinct. Ypsilon operates in a fairly recognisable tract of ambient and left-field electronica, coaxing a distinctly 90’s sound of processed vocals, new-age swells and digital resonators. It’s an evocative listen, a work of blissful, clanging euphoria.

Ypsilon‘s reliance on some timbral tropes is both a strength and a weakness – at its most questionable, such as in the opener Theyll, the album channels the coffee-table electronica of Thievery Corporation. In contrast however, Blynn showcases the groups penchant for interesting sound-design, layered fizzing, atonal creaks over expansive, nuanced drones.  The second half of the album fairs better than the first in this regard, for it is here that much of the album’s depth resides. The final 3 tracks blend into a fairly restrained ambient sound-scape, a swampy, laden mood that blossoms into a rich gated arpeggio to end the album.

It would be easy to suggest that this sort of washy, tonal, drone-based ambient music is dime-a-dozen at this point, and in some respects Uwe Zahn, Porya Hatami, and Darren McClure and ostensibly not adding very much to this already rich field – no matter the quality of their craft. Look past some of the more pointed referents however, and you will discover some really quite pleasingly compositional devices. The utility of extensive arpeggiations, whilst reminiscent of some of Tangerine Dream’s later work, interacts with soft, wandering leads and swathes of organic feedback to create clusters of harmonic and inharmonic clouds, swarms of dense and bubbling timbres that aggrandise any of its more easy-listening qualities. And if the likes of Abyrb are a little too post-rave for my liking, the prevalent summery sheen that affects the album as a whole serves to dampen any misgivings concerning some of its more mainstream tendencies.

This is the kind of album that I can imagine being extremely successful within certain circles, embodying much of the populist ambience that makes Fennesz or Eno resonate with so many people, despite not really sounding like either artist. Much of the drone-based content is so organic that I feel I could almost touch it, and the focus on (largely) tonal relationships between well-designed sources makes for an enchanting listen.  And if I am not exactly sold on the more percussive elements, nor the over-arcing 90’s electronica style, such elements are offset by both the overall production quality and the groups ability to conjure some genuinely wonderful sound-design from their sources.

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