In the world of ambient music, soundscapes with a cold, icy atmosphere is a subgenre of its own. With albums like Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra (1974) or Erik Wollo’s The Polar Drones (2003) on your music player, even the warmest day feels cold – albeit in a refreshing way. When listening to them you almost can’t believe that you aren’t freezing.
When I started listening to Craig Skala’s album Tundra (2008) I was almost certain that this was such an album. The cover photo by famous photographer Yuichi Takasaka also gave this impression. But I was wrong, very wrong – this was not an album filled with icy drones or melancholic ambiance of crackling ice – no, Tundra is a collection of positive, upbeat songs illustrating the majestic beauty of winter, when the sun is shining and everything around you is blanketed in snow.
Craig Skala is from Toronto, and Tundra was his first major new age music project (but he has been involved in many other music projects – check out the artist’s homepage). He has studied both electronic music, jazz composition, and film scoring. The electric guitar is his main instrument, which anyone who listens to Tundra will understand. The album’s warm sound is largely due to positive guitar melodies – and, secondly, a catchy rhythm on all tracks (with real drums).
The first song on Tundra is called Winter. It is a very welcoming first track, greeting you like a friend’s smile. The nice guitar riffs, layers of synth pads, hihats and percussion, plus a heavy reverb, all in all create a very nice atmosphere. The main tracks on the album are Moon and Aurora. The slow guitar opening on Moon is breathtakingly beautiful while the flute part on Aurora is very creative.
Another track that has a truly interesting sound is the title track – where a female voice “sings” almost like the caveman on Tubular Bells… I personally like it very much, but the radio host in me says no, no, no, this will upset the listeners. It is a cool track though, and the short Tundra prelude is the only really icy sounding track on the album (so if you bought the album because you though it was like Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra, you at least got one cold sounding track…).
All in all I think that Tundra gives the listener something very close to a complete listening experience. The album is simply put excellent sound design, and the mixing is very well done. I was not surprised when I heard that Craig Skala also has been into visual arts and painting – on Tundra he has filled the audio canvas with colors and expression, giving a cold world a bright, warm light.
Tundra truly is a work of art.
The album is available on Bandcamp and Amazon as a CD, but it is not on Spotify or iTunes.