The birth of a new label is always fraught with risk. In a world where people have a tendency not to buy physical media anymore and see art as something that is free, it is intriguing when a new physical media label pops up. Aural Canyon was started by Matthew Erik Hanner and Cody McPhail (ATOP) with Chad Walls doing the mastering and Evan Henry, Adam Pacione, and Gina Giamanco working as artists and art directors. The motivations for starting a new label can vary widely so I asked Matthew Erik Hanner, co-founder of Aural Canyon, why he started this new ambient centered label. Matthew Erik Hanner – “It was a lifelong dream. It’s my way of giving back to the music and art community in which I have learned my ears and heart for all these years. It’s also our chance to stand up to whatever crap is going on in the world and make it better.”
In June, the label released its first batch of physical releases. There were four in total from various ambient and experimental artists. The releases are all cassette and from the artists Visjøner, Adam Pacione, Derek Rogers, City of Dawn, and Tanner Garza and Funeral Parlor. I asked Hanner why he chose these four artists to kick off the label. He responded, “I wanted to have a diverse group of artists to create a foundation for the story of Aural Canyon. Derek and Adam are both amazing artists who I have deep respect for. Tanner and Josh create a dark & light combo I just fell in love with. Visjøner is like my deep, dark secretive love for techno and dance. He also created his Visjøner moniker for his 1st release on Aural Canyon. And finally, City of Dawn! What else is there to say that hasn’t been felt! Kid is a true saint sent here to help us and make us FEEL!”
However, before the release of the first batch of cassettes, Aural Canyon released their Benefit Compilation for Planned Parenthood. One of those moments that moves to make the world a better place, the label launched with this compilation in March of 2017. With artists which would later have full releases as well as many more, the compilation is 32 tracks long and contains an astonishing group of fantastic tracks from the ambient and electronic genres. All proceeds from the compilation go to support women’s health services at Planned Parenthood. Give it a whirl and donate some dough to a good cause.
Now, on to the individual releases of the various artists on the label.
Visjøner – Visjøner
Visjøner is the electronic brainchild of Robert Thompson (Mohave Triangles, Quartz Sarafi, Paa Annandalii). His self-titled album is an exploration in ambient techno rhythms and sounds. Further, Thompson recorded the tracks live, giving his listener a performance throughout the five-track album. Hailing from New Jersey, Thompson moves the listener in and out of transitive states with ambient textures and repetitive beats. What he does breaks any mold one might expect when the term “techno” is used of music because none of the repetition is boring or annoying. Rather, it is clearly so infused with ambient influences that Thompson finds that beautiful medium between the genres.
Visjøner begins with “Getaway (2 a.m. Temple Mix)” which contains tantalizing beats that float over a floor of dreamy drones. The beat is addictive, as Thompson flips it and creates a rather danceable beat alongside all the hypnotic undertones contained in the drones. Glorious in its execution, “Getaway” is the perfect opener to this five-track journey. “Northern Reconnaissance” follows with spacey textures and drones and thumping beats. High-hat accents the track with a head-bobbing groove. This is club noir music, smoky and subtle in its brilliance. Blissed out and sensual, “Northern Reconnaissance” will get you moving.
“Glacial Sequence” begins with deep synth vibes that flitter in the speakers. A deep, club feeling bass enters the mix and drives the track forward as high-hat adds to the groove. A melody begins to cascade throughout the track with slight variations giving the feeling of movement and performance. The percussion is also altered, with Thompson bringing in accents here and there. “Visjøner” is not just the moniker of Thompson here but also the title track of the album. Perhaps a musical declaration of self or identity, the track is smooth, methodical, and intricate. This is what I would call “chill”. Turn out the lights, put on headphones, and lay in bed to experience this track in full immersion. “Distant Body” rounds out the album with the longest track clocking in at 12:28. It is a long-form sonic exploration of ambient sounds and textures with rounded percussion tinged with sharp claps and tinny accents. It’s a perfect conclusion to this techno ambient entry in the Aural Canyon catalog.
Adam Pacione/Derek Rogers
Adam Pacione and Derek Rogers share the second release by splitting the album. Pacione, a veteran of the genre and a mainstay in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, leads off the split with a 29:50 ambient tour de force called “Midnight Summer”. A cross between Eno and Hauschildt, Pacione weaves a sonic blanket that wraps the listener in fuzzy edged, ambient beds of bliss. Oscillating with subtle changes throughout, Pacione is patient and careful, building layers upon layers until about halfway through, there is a gorgeous tonal shift. The layers just fall away and a brilliant, fuzz tone swells and falls with very relaxing synth tones playing in their midst. At about 17:40, there is another shift and a sparse melody rings out as oscillating, circular tones come up in the speakers. Layers slowly begin to populate the soundscape and, when the layers move away into silence, Pacione once again masterfully reveals new beauty in a low, humming tone and crackling, subtle textures. A guitar type sound begins to beckon and call, with other guitar type sounds answering over a deep rumble and textural popping noises. The track closes out and leaves the listener with a sonic journey worth taking over and over again.
Derek Rogers contributes three tracks to the album, each of various lengths. “Sun and Sky, Mirrored 1” is a piece that plays heavily with volume and panning, making for a masterful listening experience. Bells toll throughout the track as static creates a soft bed. The bells move up and down in volume while panning from speaker to speaker. Rogers also includes other textures and what sounds like birds chirping. The combination of it all is electric. “Sun and Sky, Mirrored 2” has an almost eerie childlikeness to it because of the bell tones used. A deep rumble undergirds the piece with what seem to be almost violent wind sounds or a subtle thunderstorm. The seeming randomness of the bell tones creates a stunning tension that plays as a foil to the consistency of the drones. The bells fall aside and silky synth drones fill the space, removing much of the tension and easing the listener into a rumbling, sonic ride.
“Sun and Sky, Mirrored 3” is the finale to Rogers’ half as well as the end of the album. Drenched in fuzz and warping, dithering textures, “Mirrored 3” erupts into the speakers like a beast getting your attention. Light, airy synths play about in the midst of the more aggressive sonic clouds. At about 11 minutes in, the bells return, tying the tracks together. Then, in an instant, the roar disappears, a calming drone emerges and the xylophone/bell like tones return but this time, they seem brighter and stripped of their eerie context from before. Then, as if from the memory of a child, the sound of a roar lifts into the speakers like a rocket blasting off into adventure.
Tanner Garza & Funeral Parlor – Dark Days
Tanner Garza and Funeral Parlor collaborate on this ambient drenched album. An exploration in disappointment, depression, and a fascination with the dark corners of human existence, Dark Days moves in and out of brightness and slinks into those spaces where experience is toughest. Garza is based out of Houston and so is Funeral Parlor which is the moniker of Josh Doughty. The first track on Dark Days is “A Light Coma”. Drifting and subtle, bright orbs of sound create a bed as synths rise and fall throughout. It’s calming, placating, and perhaps represents one of those breaks one gets from depression when one suffers from it. It portrays a soothing sense of numbness. “Accepting the Pain” is like an awakening, searing in its awareness. Undulating synths tinged with slight fuzz, create an almost aggressive feel with layers of textures and sounds filling out the voids. At about 5 minutes in, loud, cracking fuzz enters the speakers with a rather aggressive tone. Sometimes the pain wins, but then again, the synths return to simplicity but not without touches of that fuzzy sound. This, at least for me, seems to evoke healing which is difficult and the idea that pain can remain for some time.
“Synthetic Shine” is a Carpenter-esque piece, sparse and simple. Perhaps this refers to the external life a depressed person lives, hiding the pain behind a smile. Lifting external brightness amid dark, somber tones internally. The rumble here is beautiful, sitting below the brighter tones as they lurk about. “Better Daze Under the Gray Skies” begins with glorious sounds of soothing rain, birds chirping, and cars passing. The synths replace the rain, with an almost rain-like feel to the main sonic thread. Eventually, percussion enters the mix, becoming more complex as the piece moves forward. Eventually, the sample of the rain/cars/birds returns to join the synths and percussion. It’s a perfect mix that has layers fade away and return. Soaring synths become prominent as a glimmer of hope rises from the refreshing deluge.
“Neither (The Black Song)” is drenched in layers of ambient sounds which deserve multiple listens. This track is deep, meditative and just beautifully constructed. “Untitled (Saudade)” is, well, a song that’s untitled but yet is. The word saudade is a Portuguese word that refers to a profound and deeply felt melancholia. There is also a sparse “Carpenter-esque” feel to this track. Not quite empty but not dense either. It really pegs that sense of something missing but heavy that only a deep state of melancholy brings. “Neon Flesh” has a sampled vocal track with floating, ethereal synths that float about like dreamy mist concealing faces in a conversation. It quickly becomes clear that the activity in the mist is sexual in nature, playing a foil against the dreaminess of it all.
“Mourning Fatigue” is bright with an underlying darkness to it. It is a piece that is both luxurious and dense yet simple and contained. “最終日”is the final track on the album. The title is Japanese and can be translated “Last Day”. The piece begins with slow moving glacial notes and then is joined by a sci-fi feeling synth that lends new depth to the piece. Those brighter tones become prominent in the piece and pan back and forth between speakers. It’s a beautiful conclusion to a stunning set of tracks.
City of Dawn – Recovery II
City of Dawn is the ambient project of Damien Duque who hails from McAllen, TX. The album is dedicated to those who are on the autism spectrum. “Recovery II” is meant to help those with autism, anxiety, and depression to find some piece in the midst of life’s difficulties. As Duque states, “Autism is not a disability, it’s a different ability! Autism is not a disease, so do not try to cure us. Please try to understand us.” This album is about, not only coping and living with certain different abilities, but spreading that awareness to others.
“Recovery Pt. 3” begins with crackles and static but is quickly joined with dreamy, otherworldly guitars. Duque’s choice of guitar tones and soothing textures creates an atmosphere of therapeutic sonics. This entry-point into the album really sets up what is to come, with lofty and yet meditative aural blankets. “Through Our Eyes” is subtle, like an Eno piece, floating about without any feeling for complexity. Brief, electronic noises punctuate the density of the drones ever so often and other layers of guitars eventually begin to build more soothing layers as they fold into the track. I guess I should say this early in the review. Everything Duque does here is magical. His sense of tonal choices, patience, long form composition, and overall ability to layer is breathtaking.
“Eunoia”, the Greek word for goodwill which a speaker imparts to their audience in rhetoric, is an exceptional title for this piece. Again, long form drones almost rumble throughout in a soothing, enveloping dense sonic blanket. Birds chirp amid the thickness as layers move in and out of aural existence. “Heartshaped Box (feat. Lisa Beccera)” is more boldly guitar driven over a spoken part. Delay and reverb drenched, the guitar strums as if to move the likewise reverb drenched spoken part along. Drones move in and out between the notes and float about like ghosts, visiting the listeners.
“Acceptance” is the longest piece on the album clocking in at 9:48. If I had to pick one of my top ambient tracks of all time, “Acceptance” would probably be in that list. There is an ease here which seems impossibly stunning. Like oceans lapping up on shores to a particular rhythm or winds blowing down canyons, this track has an incredible natural state to it that quiets and moves one into a state of ease. “For Dad” has the executed soundscapes that populate the rest of the album, with dreamy drones and sparkling guitar, but there is also a beautiful executed vocal sound that moves along the soundscape. There is a certain M83 vibe going on here and it’s lovely.
All four initial releases for Aural Canyon should have your support. Visjøner, Adam Pacione, Derek Rogers, Tanner Garza, Funeral Parlor, and City of Dawn have constructed amazing releases that have been on repeat in my library for weeks. All of these releases should become a part of your library and it proves that Hanner and co. have got their finger on the pulse of ambient and experimental music. I cannot wait to see what the label puts out next.