Austrian electronic producer Nepal Hun’s 2009 debut album as The Smiling Buddhas ‘Lo’ saw him documenting a journey to the hidden kingdom of Mustang in Mongolia, and three years on this follow-up ‘Atacama’ is similarly travel centred, acting as a sonic accompaniment to a journey through the desert of the same title in Peru and Chile. Like its predecessor, there’s an eclectic feel to the seven lengthy tracks collected here, which venture between ambient, IDM and more propulsive techno stylings. Curiously, it’s the intro section of opening track ‘Walking Through The Desert Near Palpa’ that’s likely to prove one of the most impenetrable moments to some listeners, which the first few minutes consisting completely of high-pitched ambient drones, before things finally lock down into rattling midtempo breakbeats, the snares distorting in vaguely industrial-edged fashion as dark dubbed out sweeps of bass flit like ghosts against tumbling sequenced tones in one of the more techno-centred offerings to be found here.
‘On The Moon On Earth’ meanwhile wanders further out into sinister dark ambience as grinding, factory-noise textures buzz and swell against pitch-shifted air raid siren tones as vaguely incongruous Middle Eastern instrumentation leads things down into spectral minimalist piano chords and the skitter of digital manipulation, the relentless hiss of pressurised gas slowly enveloping the entire track, while ‘Plateau Pulse On Laguna Miscanti’ ventures further out into rolling digi-dub, the swinging shuffle underpinning the percussion adding a lighter edge to the icy Mike Oldfield-esque keys and cold, wandering analogue synths that murmur beneath. While it’s frequently hard to associate the colder electronic sounds explored on ‘Atacama’ with the deserts of South America, this darkly atmospheric second album from The Smiling Buddhas contains more than a few interesting moments.