Monday, July 02, 2012

Song of the Day 29: 'Amenemhetopelzai - Ancient King Lost In Memories'

Meteo Xavier breaks out a little more of the exotic sounding stuff for the third track in his album, Espers. Keeping in line with the rest of the album, there's a lot of soundscaping going on with a variety of sounds. Let's get down to it.

Amenemhetopelzai fades in with some soundscape background and ethnic percussion. From 0:08 to 0:13 an ethnic flute fades in and disappears on a single note. The percussion here definitely has some variety among the hits, contributing to the track's unique feel. The background ambiance and percussion build up to 0:16 where we have a bit of a trilling oboe-ish sound that helps introduce a melody as well as additional instruments: the harp harmony, and more pronounced percussion hits that keep with the melody (sounds like good mallet percussion). These elements are introduced through fades after the opening trill and they follow along with the oboe-ish melody line that plays until 0:32 (which never really repeats). At 0:32 there's some sweeping light pads and soundscapes that fill the gap of melody with overtones of sounds and notes, leaving the mallet percussion to actually play a consistent, repeating series of notes. At 0:40, the soundscaping continues, but adds a little more to the high register sounds. At 0:48, the cycle resets once more until 1:04. These two cycles of "soundscaping" really sets up the listener by keeping the mallet percussion going that will persist throughout the song. It's a nice break to become acquainted with some of the harder to hear on first listen elements and it lets the mysteriousness of the opening melody lines sink in. At 1:04 there's a definite melody fading in (which seems to be played by a variety of parts or a single dominating part), but it feels laid back and natural rolling out of the soundscape. This cycles again at 1:12, at 1:20, and again at 1:28. At 1:36, the main melodyish part drops out and leaves the mallet percussion to play a new harmony/bass/percussive role alongside another ethnic flute which plays a new mysterious melody straight out of the old one. These parts intertwine very well with the ethnic flute fading out at 1:48. At 1:52 there's some more ethnic instrumentation to replace the flute in the form of that "weird guitar thing that I can't remember the name for right now" (yes I just said that). This fills the void of melody with more atmosphere to go along with the consistent mallet percussion. At 2:00 there's a strange conglomeration of instruments that come in with melody; the "weird guitar thing" from before and the ethnic flute with multiple parts. It gives this cycle (which as you've probably guessed are 8 seconds about, give or take a few milliseconds) a particularly eerie feeling, especially with the flute part that rises out at 2:06. This is another great transition to 2:08 where the melody once again leans on overtones and slow notes. Sweeping, ethereal synth pads immerse the listener in exotic, but calm sounds with the ethnic percussion continuing through it's unique rhythm and sound. The cycle repeats at 2:24 and then changes at 2:40 to something that ought to sound familiar. At 2:40 the ethnic flute from the beginning of the track shows up with a slightly different melody. This melody has some additional background beyond the usual mallet percussion, ethnic percussion, and the harp harmony (which is another similarity with the beginning). At 2:50-2:51 there's a subtle exotic low fluteish sound on a single note which kicks into some flute stabs or something of the like (percussion type sound). At 2:56 the tone changes once again with a more of a soundscaping period taking over. This brief section keeps the consistent mallet percussion with the rest of the atmospheric overtones that's been going on for most of the track, now with some occasional atmospheric strums from the "weird guitar thing" (shame on me for not remembering what it's called). At 3:04-3:28 the atmospheric section continues, but now with the high register atmospheric synth fading and building up, adding the needed variety to transition to the next section of the melody. This melody (which starts at 3:28) is pretty much the same thing heard at 1:04 and just like it did previously, it builds until a certain point (4:00 in this case). At 4:00 the wash of previous sounds fades out with a new section coming in featuring the "weird guitar thing" in tandem with the mallet and ethnic percussion. 4:08 ushers in one of the ethnic flute sounds that we've become accustomed to by now. This flute plays a melody on top of the tandem established earlier and now adds in some occasional atmospheric "weird guitar thing" strums. The melody works in its 8 second cycle, avoids a reset at 4:24 by changing direction, and continues to 4:31-4:32 where a single high ethnic flute note is held and the atmospheric strumming of the "weird guitar thing" intensifies. The flute note has faded out by 4:36, but the instrument is back for the next cycle at 4:40 with a pickup transition that leads into an octave-reinforced melody. The soundscape also greatly intensifies at 4:40 with greater intensity on the percussion and more ambient noises and overtones. At 5:00 there's some noticeable strumming (from... you guessed it, the "weird guitar thing") leading into tinkling. This additional atmosphere sort of signifies that the end of the current section is near, and it does so correctly with the heavy atmosphere being lightened up to the transition at 5:08. A lot of elements are removed for this section, leaving the mallet percussion to again pick a unique series of notes to play on set cycles of about 4 seconds. The mallet percussion is supported by only some very light atmosphere (which drifts between supporting background notes) and a very light percussion hit to signify the beginning of each measure (this light percussion hit persists from this section on until much later in the track). The most noticeable change here is that the percussion (non mallet) is completely removed except for the light hit every 4 seconds (once again we're running at about 60 bpm it seems). The mallet percussion cycle takes on a more melodic role at 5:24 while still maintaining it's background characteristics. The supporting background noises/light atmosphere also add the melody section, creating the same melody with instruments with very different rates of attack and release all while maintaining the same background established at the transition at 5:08. At 5:40, the melodic elements of the atmosphere and mallet percussion are dropped in favor of the light ethnic flute playing the melody first heard at 1:04. This melody now has some accompanied flavor in the form of some light bells. The bells play their own supporting harmony sporadically, again contrasting the rate of attack and release. After two cycles, at 5:56, the melody from 1:04 changes by going high first and gradually changing the timing as well as the actual notes. At 6:00, the new melody is joined by close octave support as the melody descends in three slow notes before going high again. The next change comes at 6:08 where the two ethnic flute parts are easily distinguished by octave and chord notes. The flute plays its last cycle and fades out completely at around 6:12-6:14. At 6:12, the mallet percussion resumes the melodic elements it possessed from 5:24-5:40 and the melodic elements seen at the same time frame with the atmosphere begin to resume as well. Since the light bells entered the picture at 5:40 they've been growing in frequency and prominence as they supported the ethnic flute melody. Without the flute melody to support, the bells begin to play consistently and frequently, keeping time with the existing mallet percussion (which I think is a marimba). However, the bells only last until 6:20 (they're faded out). 6:20-6:28 sounds very much like 5:24-5:40 with the mallet percussion and light atmosphere providing both the low notes and the melodic notes to sustain the piece. At 6:28, the ethnic flute is back with the melody, bringing the atmospheric "weird guitar thing" with it for the occasional strum. The cycle from 6:28 to 6:36 also sees the departure of the mallet percussion in a very gradual fade out. This leaves us only with the persistent light percussion hit from 5:08, some light atmosphere, occasional atmosphere from the "weird guitar thing", and the ethnic flute playing the melody. At 6:52 the mallet percussion sequence revisits in a fade in lasting until the full strength is reached at 7:00. The ethnic flute lead is also gone at 7:00, its last note being held on a fade out from 6:52 to 6:56. At 7:00 the mallet percussion resumes its melodic portion along with the light atmosphere doing the same (again like the 5:24-5:40 section). This continues until these elements (including the persistent light percussion hit from 5:08) begin a fade out at 7:16. This fade out is the conclusion of the track with the total runtime standing at 7 minutes and 43 seconds.

Pros: Meteo Xavier once again nails some really unique atmosphere with unusual sounds. The builds are long and gradual and the transitions are so seamless I had to listen over a lot more than usual to catch what exactly happened when the cycle ended. The use of ethnic and mallet percussion really adds to the foreign feel of the track and the harmonies and melodies employed create an overall feeling of mystery.

Cons: The sounds are unique (particularly the percussion section) so it's not what I'm used to. This, combined with the repetitive nature of sectional transitions among the percussion section, add to a building sense of "this isn't particularly interesting". This is a great piece of music, yet because of the perceived repetitiveness, it falls under the category of "music that is a background to itself".

Overall: Not really as much atmosphere as the previous two tracks and a feeling of repetitiveness among the unique sounds sort of drag this down from being an immediate standout track. However, there are plenty of things to appreciate here: the ethnic flute melodies, the overtones, and the atmosphere in general. The percussion section was uniquely used and I'm not sure what I think of the result. In the end, Amenemhetopelzai lives up to its name as it seems to wash over us like a memory. In a way, living up to the name sort of provides an explanation for why it "isn't particularly interesting". This is still a fantastic track of Espers and I'm glad that Meteo Xavier didn't throw us an attention grabber at this point in the album as it needed some of the unique atmosphere to supplement previously established opinions of the album.

Rating: 8.9

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