The ambient albums that have come out already in 2018 have been impressive. From riverrun to Aaron Snow’s surprise release as Turning, the ambient music landscape is healthy and alive in 2018. Leaaves have also contributed to this robust scene with the Katuktu Collective release Panacea for Lightweights. Moving and subtle, Panacea for Lightweights is gentle in its approach, lulling the listener into a therapeutic trance. For those of you unfamiliar with Leaaves, it is the project of Nate Wagner who is based in New York. A prolific artist who began releasing music under the moniker Leaaves in 2014, his newest is a brilliant and beautiful progression of his sound.
“Headphone Holiday” begins the journey of Panacea for Lightweights. It’s clear from the very first note that swells quickly into the speakers that this album is going to be something amazing. There is a beautiful, ringing tone in the upper registers while a deep, abiding low tone floats underneath as a sort of foundation to the piece. It is 12 minutes in length and the undulating swells give it a magical feel as Wagner lulls the listener into his sonic world. Distant, long form melodies populate the soundscape as it moves forward. “You Are Forgotten” is bright and swelling as tones create sonic ring-like sounds. It is a glacial track that has a brilliant patience to it.
“Lakeside” begins with a deep, abiding tone that continues to slowly swell in volume. Ring-like, bright sounds circle about deep in the track as the deep tones continue to move forward. Pops and static sounds dot the soundscape and then sci-fi elements begin to appear as an organ rings out. The juxtaposition of tones in “Lakeside” are engaging and attention grabbing, giving the piece a systemic liveliness. “City Stasis” has more of a fuzzy edge to it giving it a more mechanical feel. There seems to be a sample hidden deep in the mix that brings a particularly interesting texture to this piece. The build on “City Stasis” is deep and the layers draw the attention into their depths as it progresses. “The Cruelty of Orbit” evokes space with dreamy, synth swells and a spacious, open drone. There is a sense of wonderment here despite the title. Perhaps the title refers to a lonely astronaut looking down on a populated world wishing for connection. Of course, the interpretation is up to the listener, but it’s definitely a fascinating listen as it really does conjure spaceflight, exploration, and awe.
“Slumber” has minor tones that almost feel like the soundtrack to a horror film. They play a three-chord melody over light static. At about halfway, the tone shifts. Layers peal off and a more silent moment happens as brighter tones begin to occur. This beautiful moment repeats until the fade out leading to the finale. “Utopia by Moonlight” leaps into the speakers with a intensity that rises and falls with alternating chords. What Wagner does incredibly well is exemplified in this composition. He allows sounds, textures, and note sequences or melodies to really work themselves out over a long piece. He adds layers but not too much, subtly altering the piece but never overpowering it.
Nate Wagner as Leaaves has constructed a gorgeous set of tracks with Panacea for Lightweights. Careful and patient, Wagner works like a master shaping an aural landscape with subtle yet powerful variations. His control is masterful, leaving the listener spellbound as well as refreshed. Get a copy of Panacea for Lightweights on cassette while it’s available and expect this album to be a contender for top lists come the end of the year.