Marc Hellner – Asleep on the Wing (Peacefrog/Creative Vibes)

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Better known for his work with Chicago-based audio-visual collective Pulseprogramming, this solo offering from Marc Hellner, which comprises seven songs, including one remix of the title track, is taken from his debut album Marriages. Pulseprogramming’ 2003 album Tulsa for one second (Aesthetic) garnered rave reviews for its combination of pop-infused electronica and gentle soundscapes, resulting in the group being bracketed with such luminaries as Boards of Canada, Múm and Telefon Tel Aviv.

In this release Hellner has continued to pursue his interest in fragile ambient sounds, in the title track combining them with rich orchestral washes and whispered vocals which end up splintering into effects-laden shards underneath percussive work by Tortoise’ John Hendon. In this sense Hellner’ work, in both mood and form, is deeply-indebted to English “shoegaze’ bands of the 80s and early 90s such as My Bloody Valentine and Lush, with their emphasis on subdued melancholic vocals and reverb-heavy atmospheric drones.

Envoi, the third track of this release, showcases Hellner’ talents well, starting with a sparse selection of glitchy drops and pings before slowly building into an intricate soundscape of sweeping ambience. It is a deftly realised and seductive aural journey, both gently emotive and at times arresting.

However, while it is tempting to greet Hellner’ work with coos of “soothing’ and “melting’, it does, at times, tumble into excessive sentimentality, an impression reinforced by track names like “Asleep on the Wing’ — which contains the repeated lyrics “Heaven’ so far away and I can’ wait” — and “Cloudless exit’.

“Asleep on the Wing’ for example, benefits greatly from a remix by Telefone Tel Aviv, who by dumping the vocals under harder sounding buzzes and stuttering the long washes so they sound like a skipping CD drastically change the mood of the track, lending it a more frenetic and edgy feel.

It’s an irreverant and instructive approach which in removing some of the self-conscious seriousness from Hellner’ work, saves it from its more clichéd moments, and in the process injects some much needed humour into the no doubt important task of losing oneself in moody electronic haze.

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