Richly evocative and genuinely moving throughout its eleven tracks, Emotional Landscapes is one of the best albums yet from Norwegian guitarist/keyboardist Erik Wøllo. These are somber sonic portraits, even when the music is livelier and more rhythmic. This does not mean that the songs are not beautiful, though - in fact, just the opposite. The lonely peals and despairing cries of electric guitar, set against a backdrop of soft synthesizer underpinnings and looped other electric guitars on ‘Metaphor’ are quite ‘pretty,’ even while the music elicits feelings of regret and sadness (especially potent is the folding in of piano later in the track).
Some songs on the album are out-and-out guitar pieces, albeit still thoroughly ambient in nature from a musical standpoint, while other selections display Wøllo 's equally impressive synthesizer and guitar-synthesizer talents (such as the lovely ‘Prism,’ which shimmers and glistens amidst all manner of electronics). Most of the music on Emotional Landscapes is delicate and refined (or at least subdued), but sometimes Wøllo brings passion and drama to the forefront, such as on the eight-minute long ‘Sounds of the Seen, Part I.’ The track begins in low-key fashion, with guest artist Liv Frengstad's solid work on cello supported by a soft liquid undertone of synths. As the piece slowly unfolds, Wøllo dials up the intensity with the addition of cascading keyboards and a more dramatic repeat of the cello lead lines. A train-like forward momentum emerges at the three-minute mark that soon propels the track into a high energy mixture of chugging rhythms and mild dissonance, all led by a seamless blend of assorted electronics. This all dissolves into a field recording of a mass of people walking and talking (according to the liner notes, this was recorded under the World Trade Center scant days before the September 11 attack).
Some of the guitar work on the CD is slightly reminiscent of Jeff Pearce, such as on ‘Valley’ with its reverberating notes and sense of deep spaciousness. ‘Virtual World,’ which opens with a series of synthesized hushes and morphs into a gently loping rhythmic piece interwoven with eerie yet quite pretty synth guitar melodies, might bring Patrick O'Hearn to mind with its blend of chugging rhythms and bold yet accessible electronics.
I don't know why the music on Emotional Landscapes affects me as deeply as it does, but it does. It's not sad the way Tim Story's music is; it's more indirect than that. Since some of the music is rhythmic and even uptempo (at times), it's difficult to articulate why the CD leaves me feeling lonely and despairing, yet also strangely fulfilled. Thankfully, for me at least, the last several songs end the album on a more positive note. Maybe not optimistic, but at least resigned to the nagging feeling of regret and lost memories. ‘Satellite’ opens with a series of serene Jon Mark-like keyboards floating effortlessly before Wøllo 's guitars once again paint in musical colors of deep blue and violet. The closing song, ‘Echo of Night/Cadence’ ends the CD on a somewhat cheery note - playful in its casual rhythms, the track sounds like perfect music as one drives away from where one has revisited the past. We are glad to be returning to what we are now, even though the visitation of our previous selves was revelatory and healing.
Lovers of richly textured ambient guitar music can thank their gods that Spotted Peccary has added Erik Wøllo to their label so that his particular brand of creative guitar music is more readily available to us in the States. Goodness knows that we can use music this beautiful, now more than ever. Emotional Landscapes is in the running for one of my favorite releases of 2003. It is deeply personal music, brimming with humanity. It resonates with the sadder tints of our emotional palette of colors; listening to it is almost cathartic in intensity. I highly recommend this album.
- Bill Binkelman, Wind and Wire