“Power ambient” seems like an oxymoronic genre tag; it’s not like most people are getting particularly amped to Tim Hecker records. But on Uptown, Pelican guitarist Trevor de Brauw uses his solo debut to present an imposing collection of massive ambient drone. Far from the compositionally “instru-metal” of his main band, de Brauw spent years refining these forays into the textural landscapes of the guitar drone, resulting in a set of introspective tracks that work best if played on an infinite loop. Each consecutive play of the album compounds upon the last to reveal just how much can be construed from each song’s subtle complexities.
One of Uptown‘s biggest strengths is its universality. These songs were birthed at vastly different times and places in de Brauw’s life, constructed on either a tobacco farm in North Carolina or the Uptown neighborhood in Chicago. Despite this rural-urban contrast in these songs’ origins, the final results would fit as sonic draperies for both a vast, summery field and a humble studio apartment. There’s a shared sense of beauty that’s equal parts expansive and intimate – a simplicity that demonstrates why ambient and drone music requires just as much listener interpretation as the artist’s compositional legwork.
The formula de Brauw uses to achieve this remains consistent throughout Uptown, save for a raw acoustic track “You Were Sure” that’s reminiscent of the softer side of fellow Flenser colleagues Have a Nice Life. Elsewhere, de Brauw adapts an intriguing mixture of Sunn O))) à la Kannon and the most triumphant, melodic sludge riffs from Pelican’s catalog. A few true ambient passages in the vein of William Basinski pop up here and there, but he primarily relies on the strength of his carefully controlled drones. The driving thunder of guitar overwhelms with its size and scope, while underlying melodies and ambiance accent the proceedings to create a truly epic experience.
He occasionally weaves acoustic instrumentation into the mix, such as the seamless transition between drone and acoustic plucking on “A New Architecture” and the ominous, hollow drone of both guitar and piano on “Distinct Frequency.” Lead single “The Keep Bowing” deserved its introductory selection, with a gorgeous guitar drone that feels like the precursor to a massive blackgaze song, remaining captivating enough to be enjoyable in and of itself.
Like a burning sunrise enveloping the entirety of creation, Uptown is an incredible solo debut from a guitarist who’s already proven his talent behind the axe. Though these compositions took de Brauw several years to finalize for this record, the final track listing builds to an album ambient drone fans never knew they needed. Here’s to hoping there’s a short gap between the successes of Uptown and de Brauw’s sophomore album, a release which will undoubtedly continue establishing his music as an embodiment of what power ambient has to offer.