Little Things

Darshan Ambient

Little Things


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Finalist - ZMR Music Award - Best Ambient Album
ECHOES Radio CD of the month - September 2013

About Little Things


1   UnUsual Thursday

2   The Mystery Of Sleep

3   W. 52nd

4   Shadow Country

5   Little Things

6   Soft Portrait

7   Slow Drum

8   Nocturne In 3 Parts

9   Fields

10   There!

11   Watch Your Step

12   Exile

Little Things, the seventh Darshan Ambient release on the Spotted Peccary/Lotuspike label, delves deep into the details that slip through the cracks of everyday life, as veteran composer Michael Allison delivers twelve tracks filled with mystery and wonder, shadows and twilight. Masterfully crafted ambient synth textures, guitar loops and effortless rhythmic grooves lay the foundation for lush guitar phrases, pulsing strings, electronics, and poignant melodies, in part highlighted by a darkened piano, a distant trumpet, or a fragile and touching wordless vocal.

While not deviating from the familiar signature sound that fans will immediately recognize, Little Things as a whole is noticeably more atmospheric than recent Darshan Ambient releases.  Allison notes, “In many ways I’ve gone back to my ambient roots on this album. Although there are still rhythms on many of the tracks, it’s a much more ethereal album. The music has a very dreamlike quality to it.”  Dreamlike and ethereal for sure, but with a deep, mysterious, introspective quality. Allison continues, “My intention was to make a darker album. Something a bit heavier than previous releases.” This darker more enigmatic side to the music helps to emphasize the album’s theme of uncovering and celebrating the wonderful little details that exist below the surface of our normal routines.

Whether it’s the slow-building stillness of UnUsual Thursday, the metro-hypnotic tension of W. 52nd, the cautious yet intimate moment captured by Soft Portrait, or the hopeful and uplifting power of Fields, Darshan Ambient’s Little Things offers an elegant arrangement of notes and chords that reflect what we all take for granted; music of the unnoticed beauty that always surrounds us, but rarely gets a second thought.


In the days before YouTube, iTunes and most other on-line music sources, Darshan Ambient was a minor star at, the renowned legal music download site.  He released his music there and garnered nearly 100,000 listens.  That’s not much in terms of YouTube’s multi-million-listen hypes, but it was a lot in the fledgling days of on-line music.

Listening to Darshan Ambient you might not suspect that Michael Allison, the man behind DA, spent years playing edgy R&B with Nona Hendryx and punk with Richard Hell. That’s not an overt influence in Darshan Ambient’s music, and that’s especially true on his new CD, Little Things. But it’s there: in the musicality of his sound, the hook of his melodies, and the gentle tug of grooves that range from Jon Hassell-like rhythmic amalgams to jazz syncopations.

On “UnUsual Thursday,” Darshan Ambient seduces with unmoored ambiences before locking you in with an ambiguously ethnic percussion groove.  Is it Indian? African? Does it matter in the cross-cultural world where digital sound objects are available to anyone? In this digital ethnic world a sarangi lick can open a track like “Slow Drum”. Allison doesn’t play the Indian bowed instrument, but someone did somewhere at some time, and Allison uses that phrase to lead-off his piece, employing the signifiers of Indian music to create an ethnic music from culture that doesn’t exist.

That’s one of the questions posed by Michael Allison on his most mature and sublime album too date.  It features a seamless flow of sounds that are sometimes eastern, sometimes African, sometimes urban.  “The Mystery of Sleep” harkens back to Robert Rich’s techno-tribal moods, as Allison employs spare, picked  electric guitar timbres, cello and lap steel guitar in this slowly throbbing piece.  Rich uses lap steel as well, usually as a snaky Middle Eastern wail, but Darshan Ambient taps its country affinity to take middle eastern grooves into the west on “Shadow Country”, a new twist on Ambient Americana.

Michael Allison is a musical omnivore, so it’s not surprising when references to Miles Davis with a trumpet and tamboura drone turn up on the corner of Darshan’s “52nd St.”   After all, Darshan’s 2011 album, Dream In Blue, was an homage to Miles.   It’s even less surprising when Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” is sound-checked on “Fields.” One might also hear Reich’s “Violin Phase” on “There!” or maybe it could be The Penguin Café Orchestra.

Little Things is as dark as it is dreamy, as melodically inviting as it is atmospherically enveloping, and it’s Darshan Ambient’s best album to date.

- John Diliberto, Echoes Radio - CD Of The Month

While Little Things (62'41") holds many mysteries, its music still enlightens. Recording under the name Darshan Ambient, guitarist and synthesist Michael Allison aims for the high horizons of the spirit. His recent CDs of contemporary instrumentals have helped to raise the New Age genre from mere entertainment to an enriching art form. It is possible that pedestrian consumers will use Little Things as background music, but there is a depth and complexity to this album that makes active listening a most rewarding experience - even more so in isolation where it easily stands on its own. In spare and unhurried arrangements Allison explores the magic of the lower depths. With generous applications of reverb and echo an airy halo seems to surround each note. Mostly paced at an amble Allison does mix up moods with tempo changes. Slow crescendos move the atmosphere from the quiet impassivity of rest into a potent beautifully crafted zone of breathy female vocals, sampled sitar, rumbling drums, twanging guitar, jazzy trumpet and elegant piano tones. On a few tracks he combines synthesized and sampled sounds with his treated guitar, which results in ethereally original melodic lines - something difficult to achieve in such a crowded field. Artists may create as if they were on fire and Darshan Ambient is no less passionate. Yet while his work is not fully ablaze, it does indeed smolder.

- Chuck van Zyl, Star's End

Ideally, a music reviewer will exhibit a sense of subjectivity as he or she heads into a fresh review. It’s kind of our job. But we are human, some opinions to the contrary, and not only do we end up with artists we enjoy, we also have those whose next work we truly look forward to. For me, Darshan Ambient is one such artist, which is why these last few months have been difficult for me. You see, I review strictly in order of when releases were sent to me and I don’t move people up in my queue just because I happen to quite like their work. So here is Darshan Ambient’s Little Things, which came to me back in August, and only now can I sit down and thoroughly immerse myself in Michael Allison’s latest. And let me tell you that while the wait was not easy, it was worth it.Here we have another graceful blend of contemporary instrumental pieces, lightly spiced with world and jazz flavors, laid-back and deep, with just the right amount of catchy hooks hiding in the flow. Allison notes that with this disc he has gone back to his ambient roots; you certainly hear it in the swirling washes that greet you as “UnUsual Thursday” opens the proceedings. Those washes then shift toward the back as Allison layers in a melody to take the piece in a more New Age-ish direction.  ”Soft Portrait” is an Eno-esque pairing of slow and simple phrasing repeating on piano, respecting the harmonic contributions of its resonant tones, with quiet pads to sing counterpoint. Another take on this is offered up on the title track, which almost feels looped. A basal phrase begins repeating itself, gets a bit more electronic texture, then meets a similarly restating piano phrase. Allison slowly deepens the layering and the flow, and creates a piece that’s more than a bit hypnotic. What makes Little Things, outstanding, however, is its diversity. Yes, there are pieces with that ambient timbre, but then there are tracks like “W. 52nd,” which brings us more of Allison’s cool trumpet, the kind we enjoyed on his Miles Davis-themed Dream In Blue. (And it may just be me, but I always catch a hint of Mark Isham phrasing in Allison’s horn.) This is one of a few tracks with a nice world flavor to it, and that jazz edge. There is also some delicious slide guitar work throughout the album that really catches my ear. It speaks up beautifully in “Shadow Country,” over hand percussion and an understated bass riff that holds down the rhythm. I also like it in “There!,” which opens with a rush of string sounds echoing Steve Reich and then blossoms thanks to the slide, which takes on a slack guitar sound that practically has a paper umbrella sticking out of it. Little Things is a true pleasure to listen to. Allison is a craftsman and a talented multi-instrumentalist who infuses every song with tons of pure feeling. This is a pensive and personal disc, a perfect end-of-day listen that will have you in its hold down to the last perfectly hanging note of the soundtrack-worthy closing piece, “Exile.” Don’t wait like I had to; listen to this now.

- John Shanahan,

Melodic rhythmic ambient.
Little Things has a delightfully gentle mood that strays from aching, melancholy beauty to drifting, soaring serenity. The sparse, delicate opening bars of muted piano brim over with emotion - slow and insistent - leaching out into the heart, radiating, diffusing. This patient, loitering introduction builds gradually into swaying motion a subtle, sublime beat and echoing chords drawing the motion onward. There are passages of haunting, glitchy minimalism: the lovely title track featuring a sleet of static, looming electronic waves and dreamy piano. Michael Allison has refined his style now to a high degree of purity - an eclectic sound gatherer, he effortlessly blends together instruments and stylistic elements from diverse places and genres. There are soft flutes, Indian sarangi phrases, trumpet flourishes, weeping steel guitar lines, orchestral strings and dense beatless ambient zones. Country roots sometimes surface in massings of natural passion - the blissful reverie of Watch Your Step demanding complete submission to its heavenly gaze.

Little Things is delivered in a plastic-free card wallet of twin panels; the CD is tucked neatly into an end. Artwork features crepuscular vignettes of quiet, waterside scenery. Red cloud glow silhouettes black foliage; an umber-orange atmosphere soaking everything. Track titles in elegant white font sit alongside their timings on the rear cover - the panorama continued from the front cover here fading and softening into a smoother ground. Inside an image of similar nature fills both panels - sharp centre quickly blurring into obscurity toward the edges. Here are brief credits, a dedication and website details.

Little Things sees the maturing Darshan Ambient sound exploring a little more darkness than normal, looking back somewhat to ambient-country origins and stretching forward into stirring glitchy textures. This is the seventh album from Michael Allison's uniquely tranquil project to be released via the Spotted Peccary/Lotuspike label. The twelve tracks here have much to attract Darshan Ambient fans of previous releases - the lazy, melodic ambient groove is strongly in evidence - yet the innovative departures and inventive juxtapositions are what lift this album beyond the norm - a fact highlighted by the wise choosing of the title track Little Things. Visit the Darshan Ambient website for more information and reviews or check out the Spotted Peccary page for sound samples and purchase links.

- Paul Jury, Morpheus Music

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