Posted on Sep 11th 2008 09:30 pm

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Alexandre Navarro: Arcane

SEM 2008
10 Tracks. 53mins31secs

Sometimes it’s almost like cheating, when an electric guitarist uses a decent delay line. From Windy & Carl’s sublime arctic drones to The Edge’s epic chord slaps, the right kind delay and reverb combination can transform even a scant few plucks of the instrument into divine swirls of ambient bliss. Then again, as with most easy techniques, true mastery of such washed-out guitar ambience is rare to come by; for every Flying Saucer Attack, there are ten staid sets of snoring aimless drones, counting on such engulfing effects to take over for compositional strategy.

Enter Alexandre Navarro, just so being one of those masters. The snow-peaked resonances on Arcane, his latest release, and the second for the SEM label (already off to a good start with The Green Kingdom’s debut in 2007), are sounds made for treasuring. This is that special album that won’t be very popular, but will mean the world to those who get it, and I’m not talking about purchase.

Let’s start with Mystical Lane, the de facto “single” cut, and one of the most gorgeous tracks on an album ridden with them. A flute sounding synth (which could very well be more manipulated guitar) treads delicately amidst gentle showers of staccato guitar delays, gradually revealing an expansive lower end. Lane is far too gripping in a melodic sense to work as new age fluff, as a slightly melancholy progression engages in the chord equivalent of point-counterpoint, instruments speaking to a naturally intriguing ebb and flow. Following Lane, we’re treated to Awaken, a more hauntingly sparse number, again engaging the breathy woodwind sound, and accentuating the crumbling sounds of static interference. This digital forest floor crunching manages to be almost attention-grabbing, compared to the restraint-beyond-restraint of the guitar, threatening at any moment, to burst out of its aural closet. It’s a kind of suspense that needs no actual sounds of fear to work.

No masterpiece of ambient guitar would be complete without a title referencing the sun, and The Dawn captures the proper mixture of hope, fatigue, and contemplation associated with this surreal changing of the skylights. Replicating the slow crescendo of a sunrise, the layers of guitars and steady, muted kick drum pulse grow louder and more complex, before resting in the lighted comfort of the metaphorical day. Eolite, by contrast, is a fitting dusk (despite appearing earlier in the album), as the treble swell of delayed guitar splinters off into a comforting bass series with guitar pushed to the sides. The warm womb of night appears in the form of such a melting bass sound, losing layers of complication until fading away by the end.

Like most gorgeous ambient discs, Arcane doesn’t lend itself easily to explanation of the fairest of criticism through the written word. Suffice it to say this is beauty with a fragile and temperamental soul, and if that fails to captivate you, well then, it’ll still be my little secret.


Alexandre Navarro | SEM
Buy: iTunes

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