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|If Thousands -
MP3 Album 2014 | Silber 149
15 tracks, 72 minutes
: Press Release
: Digital Booklet
It’s good to have If Thousands back after an eight-year hiatus, a break precipitated by “marriage, babies, new beginnings, growth & change” and which pretty much sums up why the Duluth duo of Aaron Molina (guitars) and Christian McShane (other stuff, including erhu, accordion, cello, pipe organ, Ensoniq Mirage, Moog, and Roland Juno-6) might have needed a breather. I’ll tell you, having a kid is exhausting, and requires laser focus. But I stopped making music long ago myself – maybe it’s time for me to come out of, er, hiatus (as in, “hiding”)?
But this isn’t about me – If Thousands! Following their blueprint of one-take recording (no overdubs), Molina and McShane have crafted For, a thirteen-track odyssey through experimental ambient passages and mood pieces that fits right in with their previous work – it’s like they didn’t even take a break! – and explores new avenues of their chosen genre, adding textures and melody in seemingly impossible doses. You might be fooled into thinking that this was nod-off headphone tunage to doze to, and I wouldn’t blame you if you did – the band, who never plays live (except for that one tour with Alan Sparhawk years ago) did this performance called “Slumber” in 2005, during which audience members were encouraged to sleep through all the bands. (Seriously.) But if that’s where you leave off, you’re missing out on the subtle power the duo injects into their recordings, the emotional heft with which they construct some truly amazing sonics.
For’s thirteen tracks are all numbered but alternately presented in numeral form and spelled out: “1,” “two,” “3,” etc., and track thirteen is called “lucky” for some reason. (Get it?) So there isn’t really any sort of narrative within the song titles, such as “Io,” or “With a Voice as Big as a Tree” (two of my favorite older If Thousands songs). I’m therefore left to my own devices. The cover lends a bit of help in that it’s exactly how I would imagine dusk in Duluth in deep winter – cold and gray, but soft and enchanting. Actually, that’s about as right as it gets – it feels otherworldly yet natural, like the music itself, and even if a snowball fight erupted, its sound would be dampened to near silence. As a listener, I’m as all right with that as I can get.
It begins as pastorally as suggested, with the clean, droning guitar notes of “1” gradually gaining coloration from chord formation (and whatever keyboard-sounding instrument McShane is playing). It feels like the beginning of a lengthy post rock experience, but instead of ratcheting up tension before divebombing into catharsis, “1” remains gorgeously optimistic and level. There is indeed some distortion that creeps in toward the end, but it’s merely colorful – it’s the equivalent of the sun finally peeking over the horizon on a frigid morning. As an invested listener, I want the feeling of quiet hope it engenders to last for a long time.
The palette shifts to pensive for “two,” and by the end of “3” If Thousands sound positively discordant, underscoring the range Molina and McShane are able to demonstrate. On “four,” dusty spaghetti western strains of a violin (I think – violin is not listed in the instruments McShane uses, but it sounds too high to be a cello) wail over acoustic picking, perfect lonesome accompaniment to a Nick Cave and Warren Ellis–scored film such as The Proposition. By “5,” it’s become clear to me that If Thousands and Shane Carruth, who scored each of his brilliant films Primer and Upstream Color himself, are kindred spirits.
I could just immerse myself all day in describing the individual experiences I have with each song, but I’d rather not bore you to death. It’s the latter point, though, the spiritual connection to the sounds of Primer, that truly verbalizes If Thousands’ strengths – they were made to soundtrack images. And they have, indeed, provided music for a few, hard-to-find films. Their music begs to be visualized, as my imagination so desires after diving headfirst into For. But until that happens with these new compositions, I’ll have to be content with them as magnificent headphone fodder.
~ Ryan Mastellar, Critical Masses
Based out of Duluth, Minnesota, If Thousands has developed a reputation for a unique brand of ambient drone. For is the band’s first release in eight years, and on the album’s first single “Lucky,” you’ll hear a gorgeous bit of drone that sounds as though it should be played in a large church, just for the acoustics.
~ William Ruben Helms, The Joy of Violent Movement
If Thousands are the Duluth, Minnesota based duo of Christian McShane and Aaron Molina. I’ve not heard anything by these guys in years and the promo sheet says this is their first album in nearly a decade.
The experience of this 13 track set is simultaneously Psychedelic and Ambient. It’s minimal, yet melodic. The music is typically played at a drugged, droning pace, yet is also meditative and inspiring. The acoustic instruments and haunting organ are hypnotically dreamy and I like the way they combine with soundscapes and drones to create a flowing wave of slowly evolving Ambient-Psych. A variety of influences inform the music – Eastern/Indian, mind-bending avant-Mediterranean, at times I detected a stripped down Velvet Underground dissonant quality, as well as meditatively drugged acoustic/soundscape/drone passages, Valium dosed Country-Folk, and one part brought to mind a droning Bluesy yet Psychedelically surreal John Fahey. A trumpet on 9 was slowly jazz gyrating against spacey atmospherics. And I like the pulsating drones on ten that create a foundation for trippy guitar and the drum bashing that provides an oddly interesting contrast. There’s also a cinematic quality, both musically and the way the music flows, that reminds me of the soundtrack to the Jim Jarmusch film Only Lovers Left Alive that I was so taken with earlier this year. And it’s all beautifully recorded, making for a luscious headphones experience. Quite a pleasant journey indeed.
~ Jerry Kranitz, Aural Innovations
Minnesota-based ambient duo If Thousands have been making noisy instrumental post-rock for well over a decade and a half, and For is their first record in eight years. It’s as if they never left us, for For is a dense, moving affair that doesn’t move very fast, is occasionally cold and threatening, and almost entirely beautiful. They like to keep it focused on the music, as twelve of these songs are untitled, with the last song being titled, appropriately enough, “Lucky.” One might take it that the artists intended it to be listened to as a whole piece, and I’ve done that—the ebbs and flows of For can be found in the transition between one piece’s ending and the next one’s beginning. Not much more to say, other than the violins are beautiful, the guitars are excellent, and For is a thing of beauty that must be ingested whole, and is a perfect drug for a long day’s night.
~ Joseph Kyle, Dagger
Silber Media is releasing If Thousands’ For, which has a tracklist that gives me vertigo. Fans of ambient & drone music should definitely check out this effort.
~ Fragile or Possibly Extict
The new If Thousands album is the best thing I've heard all year. Can't stop listening to it.
~ Nathan Amundson, Rivulets
For is an ambient album that’s calm cool and collected. If Thousands uses this confidence to great effect. Multiple styles are thrown into the mix: from guitar, synthesizer, and a few classical instruments to round off the collection. Over the duration of the album it is clear that the songs are carefully constructed with the beautiful instrumental solos showing how the thing sings. Crescendos are included when appropriate. Gradual evolution happens on a few of them leading to soothing pristine tones.
Introducing the album is the guitar grit of “1”. From there If Thousands moves onto the crisp consistent bass guitar of “two” which adds flavor to the organ swells. “3” removes guitar allowing the gentle drone to stand alone. Strings are introduced into “5” which weaves warm textures of sound. “Six” moves forward with this minimal sound removing much and leaving the smooth sounds to exist with static noise right on the outskirts of the song. On “7” If Thousands reaches one of the highlights of the collection with a freak out akin to Jackie-O Motherfucker’s work. Elegance permeates “9” with its mournful horn work, as the horn falls into the darkened industrial textures. The song is also unusual for its cymbal crashes, one of the few places on the album with discernible percussion though the percussion is for texture rather than keeping time.
“Ten” heralds the beginning of the end on For. With all the instruments finally together it feels as if the whole of the parts of the album have been working towards this moment. “lucky” finishes off the album on a somewhat hopeful note. For is a gorgeous consistent album.
~ Beach Sloth
What I like about Duluth, Minnesota duo If Thousands is they’re unpretentious (having chosen to play instruments they weren’t trained in when they started in 2000) and their music is unobtrusive without being spineless.
Silber Records’ artist profile of If Thousands describes them as ‘angst laden slumbercore ambient’ [sic] – and I can’t stand how accurate that is – but For rides a slow, angular tension which belies a motivation more complex and driven than angst. This is big, open music; its function is undeniable, but its purpose is elusive – and that’s a good thing.
A mellow first few tracks of nearly static chord interaction usher complacency as they stay the minimalist course; this ends with an abrupt, discordant forewarning from the keys, dropping back into place before the fourth track, a moody bass and violin piece that belongs in the fifteenth episode of Firefly. That’s probably the last unexpected event on this album.
Competent in the craft though they are, you might find yourself wishing they’d push harder, challenge your participation and/or your ear-holes, which they’d probably do well. If Thousand drones with a drawl, and it’s surprisingly claustrophobic, outdoorsy. It’s music for in-between places, but not necessarily transit.
It’s notably difficult to make noise without being overindulgent, but In Thousands are anything but, and in this record present a tastefully stated argument for less harshness in your drone meals. Alternately sweet and disjointed, For attracts more than it repels, which admittedly isn’t what many prefer from a guitar/synth duo, but there’s much to be said for music that gives you space to do the thinking.
Bottom line: If Thousand’s For exemplifies the saudade of the Midwest. Though more variety of composition is needed, it’s a solid, hankering statement about gentleness in musical experimental.
~ Bryan Lindeman, The Garbage & The Flowers
US project IF THOUSANDS is the creative vehicle of guitarist Aaron Molina and multi-instrumentalist Christian McShane, who have explored their particular brand of ambient, drone and post rock since 2000. “For” is their most recent production, initially released through Bandcamp in 2013, and later also as a digital download through US label Silber Records at the start of 2014.
If anything can be said to define this 70 minutes long production, then it is the mood and atmosphere of late autumn. These compositions, or improvisations if you like, all have a dark, mournful and solemn tinge to them. This isn’t an album that will ever merit a description as positive, vibrant, or playful. This is dark music. Often simplistic, at times bordering lo-fi, but always with at least a melancholic sheen, if not downright sad and mournful, and at times with a more menacing, subtly threatening character to it.
Plucked guitars paired up with a drone, at times with additional details and textures thrown in, makes up the greater majority of material at hand. The guitar tends to repeat a motif in cyclic patterns with minor variations, while the drone has more of an ebb and flow character to it, alternating with an addition and subtraction approach that creates a different ebb and flow dynamic to the proceedings. What sounds pretty much like a church organ delivers the main parts of the drones, generally sticking to the darker notes on the register, with infrequent use of mid-tones for variation, while the guitar tends to be light toned, frail and delicate in execution.
Some of the more intriguing constructions take place when the band reach a bit outside of those perimeters however. Two occasions of haunting guitar and violin excursions, the single track where loud, dramatic drum details are used to very good effect, the occasional creations of multiple layered arrangements with a distinct but subtle increase in intensity to almost majestic proportions before the track in question starts subsiding in intensity again aiming for a delicate conclusion towards silence.
There’s a limited amount of variation at hand here though, even if instrumentation and approach are different the end result are still compositions exploring fairly similar landscapes overall. If that is a positive or a negative description will be a subjective point of view, but personally I enjoyed these slow, deliberate and repetitive journeys into a subtle, late autumn mood landscape. An album that merits an inspection if you’re fond of delicate moods, ambient landscapes and music that tends to focus on atmospheres of the darker kind.
~ Olav Bjornsen, House of Prog
Per qualsiasi artista o band, la provenienza da Duluth, Minnesota, è sinonimo quasi immancabile di un contatto, se non di un’affinità con i Low. È stato almeno in parte così anche per il duo ambient formato da Aaron M. Molina e da Christian H. Mcshane, transitato nel primo periodo della propria attività per l’etichetta “di famiglia” Chairkickers’ Music e la cui ultima testimonianza discografica era una colonna sonora condivisa proprio con Alan Sparhawk e Mimi Parker (“Who Killed Cock Robin?”, 2005).
C’è però anche un altro concittadino nella storia artistica degli If Thousands, ovvero Nathan Amundson, che introdusse il duo all’etichetta Silber, la stessa che oggi opportunamente ripubblica con i crismi dell’ufficialità l’album autoprodotto in formato digitale in download a offerta libera, che lo scorso anno ha segnato il ritorno discografico di Molina e Mcshane dopo ben otto anni di assenza dalle scene.
“For” è un monolite di settanta minuti, ripartito in tredici tracce contrassegnate soltanto dal numero di playlist ad eccezione dell’ultima, che rendono in una miscela ambient-core di denso spessore il percorso tanto affascinante quanto faticoso in un paesaggio pesantemente innevato come quello della copertina.
Di quelle atmosfere gli If Thousand offrono una declinazione originale e tutt’altro che irenica di un’ambience percorsa invece da una tensione statica, creata senza impiego di overdub non a partire da soli drone chitarristici bensì da una composita strumentazione elettro-acustica.
Strumenti quali violoncello, bouzouki, organo, fisarmonica, tromba ed ehru risultano tuttavia egualmente trasfigurati nel corso delle tracce, frutto di elongazioni droniche di note acustiche e di saltuarie torsioni rumoriste. Il duo non ha tuttavia bisogno di sfociare nel rumore bianco per mantenere l’inquietudine di fondo invece sottesa persino a dialoghi acustici dalle cadenze quasi jazzy, così come a tremule vibrazioni d’archi.
I paesaggi sonori che ne risultano compositi e soggetti a continue trasformazioni lungo la linea conduttrice di un impressionismo granuloso e talora ruvido, distante tanto dagli abbandoni contemplativi quanto dai viaggi allucinati in universi paralleli propri dell’ambient più romantica e ipnotica.
Quella degli If Thousand è invece ambient music estremamente concreta, in un certo senso “fisica” ma non per questo poco evocativa.
~ Raffaello Russo, Music Won't Save You