The title of Kevin Keller’s latest album sounds like a Clifford Simak novel. Comforting but mysterious. Homespun yet majestic. Inspired by Keller’s recent heart surgery, which included being on life support while having his heart deliberately stopped during the operation, the music seems made to soothe us in our moments of anxiety even as it explores that anxiety. The occasionally sinister moods remind us of our mortality, like the opening track “Beacon” – though, as that title suggests, a light comes to guide us through the tensions.
This is classic ambient, in many ways: the mix of acoustic piano (with that Budd-esque halo around its tones), lush strings and synthesizers. But it is also modern in its resolute pulsations. Keller, as has often been the case in his long career, usually defines the rhythm not with drums but with instrumental patterns. This is music of loops, but organic loops – and as those loops are stacked one over another to increase the music’s density, gorgeous slow melodies float above them, as on the second track, “The Forgotten Places.”
There are hints of rock music in “Just Over the Ridge”, with a run time of over 7 minutes and multiple sections that play out almost like an “ambient Bohemian Rhapsody”. As for its imagery, Keller says, “I once imagined running up a hill, and then jumping off to soar into the sky, the vast Universe stretched out all around me.” In total contrast, the album’s centerpiece “Into the Light” evokes the timelessness and weightlessness of space, all ethereal long tones – the music of the spheres. There is a sense of the profound here, evoking the light seen by survivors of near-death experiences.
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“The Sky Below” brings back the ambient rock sensibility, with guitar twanging resonantly in the center of the piece. Inspired by a boyhood daydream “from many years ago,” Keller explains, “while lying under a tree and craning my neck in such a way that the sky appeared to be below me, and the Earth above.” There are even some backwards tape effects to further heighten the sense of looking back, even as the music continues moving forward, rising ever higher above the sky.
The final track is “Solana”, a Spanish word for the “sunny side” of a mountain. “It’s about returning home, to the place of our origin – more of a spiritual place than a physical one,” Keller states. The music reaches a surprising climax as the rhythm gently percolates for a while, then builds as more sounds and beats are layered on, peaking in ecstasy before a quick fade and a stripping down to piano and a quiet drone. Here is peace. Is it Heaven? Perhaps not exactly. As Keller explains it, “the front porch of heaven is a place where you can view your life from a distance before returning to it – a place of light and warmth and safety.”
For more information and music samples, visit kevinkeller.com
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