Musician, artist and greengrocer Damian Valles enjoyed a bumper year in 2011 (highlighted by the birth of a healthy baby boy). He released two mini-CDs, a full-length, and rounded off his stint as curator of the admirable “Rural Route” mini-CD series. Most of the entries in said series can be characterized as ambient, as can his three-inch releases. Old Tin Will Cry (Twisted Tree) is divided into two parts, the first of which, “Cold Working,” goes round and round in pleasant circles like a finger in the snow. The second, “Phase Transition,” lifts the gaze upward to take in the green metallic sheen of northern lights in dub, their echo thrown back by the pure white surface underfoot.
The Waves That Destroy (Hibernate) is a single, twenty-minute piece, and it is the one that actually sounds like old tin crying, or at least having tears well up in its eyes in the bitter cold. Valles expands the drone to orchestral proportions, as his field recordings, small bells, piano and guitar are all swept up into a string section, with a violin swirling out of the mass to solo half-way through before receding. The entire piece is far from destructive, but is rich in drama.
Skeleton Taxa is far from ambient, as it is too chock full of distractions to be undistracting—of hazy Byzantine ritual (“Ascent of the Past”), of lonesome nights hunkered down by the HAM radio in northern woods, of big-city minimalism (“Nightengale Floors”), attic-dusty country blues records, lavish quasi-exotica (“With a Lark’s Tongue End”), a dour, skirling dirge (“Elegant Skull”). It even features a song, “Bell and Arc,” sung by his wife Heidi Hazelton. With a voice sharing some of the lilt of Annie Haslam and with Valles’ lush arrangement, it calls to mind Renaissance, the British progressive rock band.
It is an aural curiousity cabinet, the whole somehow greater than the sum of its parts (for there are a few pieces of fool’s gold among the gems). The ear enjoys wandering over it.