I was so prepared to be excruciatingly bored by this release. After all, the cover art depicts a pile of smooth rocks balanced on top of each other on the front and a Buddha head on the back: it looks exactly like the kind of CD you would play in an ‘alternative therapies’ waiting room. Similarly, the track titles did not inspire confidence: ‘Awakened Consciousness’, ‘Savasana’, ‘Reflection and Metamorphosis’, and so on had me gritting my teeth before I’d even pressed the play button.
When I finally relented and put this CD on (telling myself that I was being narrow-minded and unfair), I felt like all my prejudices were perfectly justified. For a good nine or ten minutes, I felt like I was browsing for crystals in a ‘magick’ shop: nothing but new-age drones washing gently over relentlessly positive-sounding synth patches, calming tones respectfully floating around a pink fluffy cloud of inner peace. But then the synths got darker and rougher and an energetic arpeggiator crept in (as well as some treated guitar loops), and the whole thing went from Theosophical Society Bookshop to classic-era Tangerine Dream. I soon realised that I had judged Life Flows Water way too harshly and way too early, and this might actually be something engrossing, special, and pretty damn cool.
The whole album flows, more or less, as one seamless piece, rising from the initial meditative drone into pizzicato loops of krautrock-ish synth and sinking back into drone again, only to be met by more guitar loops and some (admittedly cheesy) keyboard melodies, before heading skywards with much twinkling and sparkling. Rise and fall, soar and sink, contemplation and interrogation—according to the liner notes, it was all recorded live, and Howard Givens and Craig Padilla definitely get credit for never letting the jam get boring or wallow in predictability. Just when I’d fear it had descended once more into spiritual-musak territory, it would swerve, the blue skies would go dark, and the journey would be filled with questions. The album constantly straddles this line between interesting synth music and yoga-supermarket, but never fully comes down on one side or the other, which actually keeps the whole thing surprisingly intriguing. It’s like three parts Robert Rich and one part Mike Oldfield, with a dash (just a dash) of John Carpenter thrown in for taste. This is honestly not a million miles away from Fenriz’s Neptune Towers, but then again, it’s not a million miles away from typing ‘meditation music YouTube’ into Google either. But I’ve listened to this release a bunch of times now, and I’m not sick of it yet: actually, I think I like it more and more with each listen.
The liner notes thank various people ‘for the use of the Mattson Mini Modular Synthesizer and SQ816 Sequencer’, and the artist photos have these two middle-aged gentlemen surrounded by at least two large keyboards each, so if you’re at all into synthesizers and don’t mind a smattering of cheese in your soundscapes, you’ll most likely get something out of Life Flows Water. I did, and I really—really—didn’t think I was going to.
- Mat Blackwell, Heathen Harvest