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Pan American
Quiet City

Quiet City is a notable recording for its successful marriage of electronic and organic instrumentation. On this recording, Mark Nelson — who imbued the prominent Labradford with much of their trademark drone aesthetic, mixing looping guitar effects and long keyboard passages with snippets of barely-audible voice and assorted found objects — is able to create a fluid, living sound that may no longer be "electronic" according to all cold machine stereotypes, nor "organic" in the sense of being the effect of a live recital on traditional instruments.

Indeed, on Quiet City, Nelson escapes from the womb of dub-infected throbs and mite-like rustlings in which he seemed hopelessly wedged on previous outings. For the moment, Nelson would seem to have found similar lodgings in an eerie dark ambient space that weaves muffled electronics and stately organic sound sources (such as organ, guitar and trumpet) with funeral tempos and grave moods. Quiet City is a deft display of intense stasis where submerged melodic fragments poke through smears of high-frequency noise and scratchy delay trails.

On the concise "Before," with a clean chiming guitar hobbling into a light spell of salty digital hailstones, Nelson plants his gruff poetic whisper. "Smallholding" furthers the stormy theme with a nimble electronic patter that sounds like raindrops falling down on a metal window ledge. An austere organ drone emerges alongside rumbling drums and flitting background noises that mimic the action of a faltering boat propeller slapping against the water. All of this is engulfed in a hissing static until a resonant hum drifts into silence.

Among the streaked synthesizer splutters and sharp high drones of "Hall and Skylight," the melancholy European hues conveyed by David Max Crawford's breathy sax and Tim Mulvennas' propulsive drumming (both are contributors to free-jazz groups the Sinister Luck Ensemble and the Vandermark Five) add a desirable variation that was absent on previous efforts. Similarly, on "Inside Elevation," lethargic European guitar-plucking and lonely melodica tread through a dense fog of perturbed ambiance, while sporadically slashed at by digital stitches from an unseen party.

This is "visual" music that evokes walks through ghost towns now swallowed up by clouds of dust that swim through eroding brick as the trekker, listening to it all crumble, searches the rubble for some sign of life. Nelson demonstrates patience by withholding Quiet City's best compositions until last. As they lace gossamer threads of melody throughout "Retouch," aquatic keyboard patterns perform a waltz around Crawford's rough flugelhorn cries. "Christo en Pilsen" also finds Quiet City perched atop its summit; rhythms chatter and flutter through this iridescent structure, a lullaby of sorts sung by echoing acoustic guitar and quivering electronic chirps. An album of distorted tone clusters, occasionally showered by dissonance, Quiet City finds quiet charms in fading memories.

by Max Schaefer

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