36 – Hollow (2010)

Time for us to take a deviation away from the gaudy dream pop of Porcelain Raft with British ambient musician 36 (pronounced “three-six”) and his sophomore release, Hollow.

36‘s Dennis Huddleston is part of a wave of new home-grown musicians, a growing collective of aspiring artists who have taken the first steps in making their own music by doing it at home, typically with computer/laptop aid. But it almost feels wrong to put 36 in this category for the pure and simple reason that his music is so much more polished and clean compared to his peers. That’s not a sleight on anyone mind you, there are excellent home-brew musicians out there, but 36 is one of those few gems in amongst it all.

One of the problems with ambient is that it has had a stereotype attached to it by the great-unwashed, one of minimal, drone melodies with seemingly little progression and no effort required. The trouble is that this stereotype is not inaccurate; ambient has a wonderful template in place that enables anyone to pick it up and make ambient/drone music with little to no effort whatsoever, and 36 is guilty of sitting in front of his computer and using it here (many of this laptop-based contemporaries are not innocent either). Hollow for the large part is comprised of looped, minimal melodies, simple electronic and “string” constructions floating on a sea of gentle glitch fuzz, which basically describes a huge swath of ambient music.

The only direct comparison that can be made is Basinski‘s Disintegration Loops. Since the Loops are probably my favourite music of all time I don’t make this association lightly; 36 has created what I believe is the most perfect modern interpretation of the Loops, with its digitally generated distortion and dark, unsettled nature. “Lightout”, the closing track, sounds so similar to “92982.1” it’s unreal, but it’s hopeful and more carefree than the album that it leaves behind and cleaner, more modern than Basinski. There are touches of organic integration; faint field recordings of bird song (“Arc”, “Lightout”) and rainfall (“Equassa”) mix with the textural chaos of the generated glitch and white noise, plus there are a few heavily distorted vocal fragments near the start too (“Home”), blurring the divide between Hollow and his previous album (which used them extensively).

Without a shadow of a doubt, “Geiga” is the out-and-out winner. More disjointed than its looped counterparts, it rises up on a deep drone and a piercing granular undercurrent to a chilling crescendo before bowing out abruptly to a few gentle strums of an acoustic guitar. It reminds me of Yellow Swans and their “Going Places”, just without the power electronics and noise. This, and tracks like “Fiona’s Room” and “Darkroom Distortion”, demonstrate just how much diversity and variety 36 has managed to squeeze in here despite having seemingly little to work with, banishing the myth that ambient “all sounds the same”. If you’re looking for a really under appreciated artist and some really quality ambient that you can just kick back and relax to, you’ve found it.