This has been sitting in my queue of things to do for some time now and shamefully it has been overlooked. However, having arrived in Poland for a brief break and with my trusty netbook to hand, it seemed like high time to give a few releases a spin which I happen to have available in a handy digital format and I’m glad I did because Kontakte deal in the sort of gentle, tripped out ambient splendour that you might imagine Mogwai jamming on early Porcupine Tree material creating.
Opening with the rippling guitar ambience and programmed drums of ‘Astralagus’, We move through negative spaces immediately strikes you with how gloriously open it all sounds. Like the best elements of Mogwai’s Happy music for happy people filtered through Ennio Morricone’s epic visions of grandeur, the guitars exist as a hurricane, gusting huge clouds of sand across the lens, scratching and obscuring the magnificent view and stirring emotion while the gentle trip-hop style drums provide the perfect backing for the monumental noise at the forefront of the band’s sound. Offering a similar styling, ‘hope’ begins as the saddest song you’ve ever heard before mutating into a storm of distorted guitars which rage away behind the deceptively simple melody which leads the listener through the white noise to the songs broken-hearted conclusion. ‘With glowing hearts’ is a gentler beast, opening with a softly-picked guitar whilst ever-so-slowly building towards a crescendo in the style of Mogwai’s unstoppable ‘Mogwai fear Satan’ although with greater emphasis on electronic elements to help scape the sound and a hint of Sigur ros lurking away in the background adding to the feeling of a subtle sadness that infuses the tracks but never takes hold completely. Indeed, as with most music that can be described either as post-rock or ambient the onus is really upon the listener to provide the interpretation with each track like a canvas, crying out to be painted with whatever images the music brings to mind.
Another gently emotive track, ‘early evening bleeds into night’ has a scattershot beat providing a skeletal backdrop for the piano and guitar-led tune with the band throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the song production-wise leading to an immense denouement that couples strings, drums, guitar and more to show-stopping effect over the course of its six minute run time. As befits its delicate title, ‘a snowflake in her hand’ starts out in a haze of static before a tune quietly raises itself above the hum and proves to be one of the most heart-breaking of the lot. As with all the tracks here, there is a strong soundtrack feel to the music and when the strings kick in it all becomes a bit too much to take with the beauty and sorrow invested in the music threatening to unleash the sort of emotions that contemporary music has no right to have access to. It’s a testament to the skill of the band and the countless hours they put into the composition that their music can have such an effect and it recalls the first time I sat, in wonder, listening to Spiritualized ‘Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space’ or stood in a beautifully constructed fifteenth century venue in Wroclaw watching the Red Sparrowes lay waste to the faithful few who had turned out to witness their performance making this very obviously the sort of record you will return to time and time again. ‘The owls won’t see us here’ is when the band finally let rip and the guitars burst from their previously muted position in the mix to the forefront of the song with a power and vitality that proves wholly unexpected and has all the more impact for that. ‘Every passing hour’ is the album’s shortest track, at just shy of four minutes and it is almost unbearably poignant with a single violin playing a mournful tune over picked guitar and the track serves more as a prelude to the lengthy ‘the ocean between you and me’ than as a track in its own right. The final track rounds out the album with guitars that trip over one another while the electronic back drop returns keeps everything slowly moving forward towards the end.
Kontakte’s stated aim was to make one hour of continuous music and in that they have succeeded. The music is often sublime with moments of extreme beauty and deep sadness intermingling to make the perfect soundtrack to the fading light of Autumn. However, as with much music of this type there is also a feeling that ideas are sometimes stretched and while Kontakte avoid that pitfall more than most there will be as many listeners out there put off by the lengthy meandering nature of the tracks as there are those who fall in love with the music’s simple, elegant sincerity. For my part, ‘we move through negative spaces’ is a splendid album which I will be happy to listen to again and again until I have absorbed every nuance but for those wishing for something more immediate then this is the wrong disc for them. Overall Kontakte have crafted a beautiful, wistful album that needs to be absorbed as a whole and the stunning beauty outweighs the moments when tracks appear to stretch beyond their abilities by some way. I’m glad indeed to have been given the chance to hear this epic work.