First of all let me say plainly that I have nothing against the so-called tribal ambient sub-genre of ambient music. I use the term “so-called” because it’s just two words that make up a descriptive label for a particular thing. And like any label for a specific genre of music, it’s subject to my personal biases and listening preferences. But it is a common enough descriptive label in the overall discussions of ambient music that I think most of us working in this expanding genre understand what the label describes when we read it or hear it. Perhaps even the name of certain ambient artists immediately spring to mind.
In regard to tribal ambient, I actively avoid listening to most music that is described using that label. What immediately springs to my mind when I read a review that uses that label is someone beating on a really big drum for an extended period of time. Mostly for the sake of beating on a really big drum with a lot of cavernous reverb for an extended period of time. So yeah, I probably miss hearing a lot of great music because I pan it based on my listening preferences and because I trust certain reviewers when they describe a release as being primarily tribal ambient music. I also happen to know that I’m not the only person who actively avoids listening to releases described as mostly tribal ambient material. This review is for those folks.
Whew. Ok. Now that all of that is stated plainly for the record, let me now plainly state that Steve Brand’s release entitled The Great Hoop is definitely not tribal ambient for those listeners who run from that genre.
I purchased my copy from Steve’s Bandcamp site and upon opening it up in iTunes, noted that he had omitted a tag–the genre. Because I’m of an obsessive / compulsive nature, I was itchy to fill in the blank.
While Hoop is definitely inspired by Native American themes and rhythms, it is clearly more of a tribute to these themes than an attempt at imitating them. (And it’s that imitation of an imitation of an imitation that leads me to avoid most so-called tribal and shamanic ambient music.) And yes, I’m painfully aware that the imitation factor extends across all the sub-genres of ambient music.
Hoop is an immersive and imaginative and inspiring listening experience. I might even call it a cinematic ambient experience. And by that I’m referring to that aspect of the definition of the label “cinematic” that is suggestive of soundscapes, scores, or music suitable for motion pictures. In this case, an imaginative journey in the best theater of all–the human mind. Were I in the film industry, Steve Brand’s name would be on my short list for Music Director.
Sonically within Hoop, there’s much to hold your attention and that, perhaps, is the main point of departure and differentiation when it comes to genre. At least to my admittedly biased ears.
Brand weaves his various sonic elements together artfully and thoughtfully and delicately. The field recordings, space, electronic, abstract, and symphonic music elements we appreciate in ambient music are all lovingly accounted for in Hoop (including the drum), but it’s put together in such a way that it’s never boring, imitative, or even reminiscent of something you’ve heard before. Hoop is one of those works of art, like a film, that is bigger than the sum of its parts. And that’s what leads me to recommending it. Whole heartedly.
Steve Brand was correct to omit the genre is his tags for this release. The Great Hoop is a fresh listening experience that defies or better yet, supersedes, its parent genre. Steve has, with this release, raised the inspirational bar for all of us producing music in this genre–tribal, shamanic, ambient–or whatever you want to call it.