Long before Hammock became the media darlings of the shoegaze community for their light atmospheric music, there was Raymond Scott Woolson. Not to take anything away from Hammock’s music and their remarkable 2005 release, but Woolson has indeed been making a similar brand of swirling, ambient, dreamy instrumental music spread out on two releases over a number of years. However, and, like Hammock, Woolson completely self-recorded and released his two full-length CD’s, but unlike his contemporaries, he has not received the same acclaim and attention. This is likely for a couple of reasons.. Firstly, Woolson’s two releases, 2003’s Atmospherium and 2004’s Legendarium are certainly do-it-yourself home recordings, packaged with manufactured simple black and white photographs. Yet, even though these recordings cannot betray their do-it-yourself status through the way they sound or the packaging, the fact remains that Woolson has created some mesmerizing music that transcends the slightly muddy production values. In the end, one cannot help but be impressed by Woolson’s ear, talent, and ability to craft some great-sounding music all on his own, simply for the love of music.
And, perhaps that’s what makes the music of Legendarium sound so pure: the listener understands right off the bat that Woolson is creating music that speaks to him, and for the sheer joy of expression. This sentiment gives the music a sense of peace, life, and movement, as Woolson is able to freely express himself without hindrance. In the deft hands of a talented individual like Woolson, this artistic freedom yields pleasurable results, and both Atmospherium and Legendarium are strong listens from start to finish. While I personally prefer the thicker layers of guitars used on Atmospherium (a CD comparable to a low-fi Hammock or Windy and Carl), I’ve decided to review Legendarium for the sake that it’s the more recent release.
Legendarium sees an expansion of Woolson’s sound, as he incorporates a greater variety of instruments to convey his moods of tranquility and sombreness. In addition to the various delayed guitars that Woolson uses, a generous helping of keyboards, drum machines, percussion and field recordings are used throughout the 1+ hour long full-length. Though the CD stands on its own in its entirety as a cohesive listen, there are some great moments that stand out which demonstrate Woolson’s sound. For instance on the opener “Awake and Dreaming”, Woolson impressively strums on an acoustic guitar, sounding like a guitar virtuoso playing in the midst of the other ethereal sounds flowing in the song. “While The Heavens Wheeled Above Us” sounds like a classic dreampop song (in the best sense) with its liquefied guitars and gentle atmospherics. Woolson explores shoegaze territory with “Through Towers And Rivers Of Light And Beyond”, as well as on the menacing “You Are Always The Ocean Around Me”, as he plays thick, syrupy distorted guitars over driving beats, while retaining a slight hint of dreamy delay in the music. “Falling Into The Waiting Fields” is an almost symphonic work with guitars and keyboards building and breathing in harmonious unison. “At Length For hatching Ripe He Breaks The Shell”, on the other hand, sounds almost like a dreamy instrumental version of a Starflyer 59 song, with its campy drum beat, indie-pop vibe, acoustic guitar bass, and distorted lead guitar.
All in all, Legendarium is a satisfying listen for fans of shoegaze-dreampop-atmopsheric music looking for something a little off the beaten track. It’s abundantly clear that Raymond Scott Woolson has a singular musical focus, and the talent to write and execute well-crafted musical soundscapes. It’s also clear that, with the freedom that comes with being a totally independent artist who answers to no one but himself, Woolson is free to make the music he wants to make, resulting in a fascinating and non-contrived listen. But, one cannot help but wonder what Woolson would be able to pull off with a little more equipment, or some production help. Whatever the possibilities may be, the reality is that Legendarium is a solid release that will appeal to fans of the more popular (but not necessarily more legitimate) Hammock.