Music Reviews

On LAMENTATIONS, William Basinski Is Accessible Yet Wonderfully Complex


Genre: Ambient

Favorite Tracks: “The Wheel Of Fortune,” “Tear Vial,” “O, My Daughter, O, My Sorrow,” “Punch And Judy,” “All These Too, I, I Love”

Released in the wake of 9/11, William Basinski’s most prolific work, the many-hours-long, four-part DISINTEGRATION LOOPS series, came to life as the result of a period of tragedy and chaos similar to the one we have (knock on wood) lived through this year. Delving into the ambient hero’s music as a college student, I envisioned Basinski as some kind of morose, vampiric figure, looming over the darkest kingdom in the ambient realm. However, over this past summer Basinski released a surprising fusion album with collaborator Preston Wendel under the moniker SPARKLE DIVISION. The record sounded like a springtime garden doused in glitter and confetti. Where Basinski’s work under his own name felt like the sonic equivalent of an Edward Hopper painting, SPARKLE DIVISION’s Kenny G-ish saxophone chops evoked the sunny, at ease paintings of David Hockney. It makes sense that, in a recent episode of Aquarium Drunkard’s TRANSMISSIONS, Basinski described the collaboration as lounge music for drinking cocktails.

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Basinski’s stark departure from his usual coy, vast, sprawling experimental compositions inspired me to do some research on the man behind some of ambient music’s most lauded records. After perusing his Twitter and reading a couple interviews, I was surprised to find that “Billy” Basinski actually seems like one of the chillest, goofiest, kindest artists making avant-garde music today. While Basinski’s second release of the year, LAMENTATIONS, may be a return to form, it feels like a wonderfully complex entrée served after a sweet, savory aperitif. For this reason, it’s one of his most enjoyable works to date.

Like his 2003 classic MELANCHOLIA, LAMENTATIONS eschews Basinski’s tendency to release albums comprised of two long-as-hell tracks. While his more meandering endeavours aren’t without their genius, they are often difficult to approach-it took me a year and a half to carve out time in my busy schedule to give all of the DISINTEGRATION LOOP installments the attention they collectively command. LAMENTATIONS is the William Basinski version of a punk band’s 15-songs-in-20-minutes exercise in throttled octane. Because of this, you can really spend time with many of the individual moments and get to know its nuances better than anything he’s released before. The single “O, My Daughter, O, My Sorrow” has a murky vocal sample that occasionally peeks through beneath the track’s waterboarded musical layers. Reminiscent of a cut off of Burial’s UNTRUE, the track’s sonic palette borrows from a vein of electronic music that Basinski has never before paid homage to so openly. On “All These Too, I, I Love” you can practically hear the warm orchestral loop burn to smithereens in the ambient ether. Even in all of its baroque glory, there’s something so gorgeously contemporary about the expansive 11-minute track. It’s the closest thing William Basinski has ever released to a chill beat to study/relax to.

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LAMENTATIONS is best summed up by the grimly titled “Please, This Shit Has Got To Stop,” which feels like laughing and drinking champagne while a comet hurdles towards the planet, all but guaranteeing inevitable mass extinction. “That’s Mother Earth singing that track, girl,” Basinski morbidly joked in his Aquarium Drunkard interview. LAMENTATIONS is, well, a lament, but, like all of Basinski’s work, his playful personality shines through, keeping the collection of tracks bearable and beautiful. Rooted in our depressing reality, Basinski’s creative brilliance and his penchant for dark humor couple wonderfully on his latest, gracing us with a record that, with a little context, is just as human and inviting as his first endeavour of the year.

Ted Davis
Ted Davis is Music Editor of Merry-Go-Round Magazine, as well as a musician, and DJ from Virginia currently living in Northeast Los Angeles. He has put out work with the band Helanovela and on his own as DJ STEPDAD and Silk Gloves. He has performed with a number of artists including Dumbo Gets Mad and Blondie (long story).

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