Ben Woods – This Digital Horizon (2013)


Does anyone else find snow peculiar? It is a symbol of the deepest fugues of Winter, an natural reminder that you are in the coldest and darkest part of the year, and yet the effect it has upon its surroundings is counterintuitively transforming. Those dim, dismal early nights are replaced with ones illuminated strongly by the brilliant white dust that has magically fallen from the sky. The sad, deciduous trees suddenly have an inverted shadow as snow settles on their bare branches, evergreens seem more at home with their icing sugar dustings, cars sit motionless on drives buried under a white mattress and an innumerable number of other objects become completely altered in their appearance by this weather event. For many places in more northerly latitudes the snow is not a novelty, it just becomes part of life, and we here in the UK get scorned for our overenthusiasm for a few inches of snow over an entire Winter season and our complete inability to handle its presence. I kind of like it though, I like that it keeps its novelty every year and never gets less beautiful or fun or incapacitating for our transport system.

“From This View”, what an appropriately titled opener. What can I see right now? An ashen sky, a few light flakes drifting slowly down, the road all in a slurry and physics-defying columns of snow stacked up on the walls outside. And it’s all going on out there in the cold silently, isolated from me by a pane of glass, but inside I have a warm radiator and the soft wavering drones of Ben Woods; tiny, quiet music to watch the cold world go by to. It fades quickly, being replaced by “Until Our Eyes Adjust”, its reversed keyboard tones rising in gentle staccato ticks amidst a wash of Stars of the Lid-esque drones and strings, telling us to focus our eyes and ears on the sights and sounds emerging around us as this track climbs up into the light and establishes itself powerfully with a great crescendo of textures and a distal whistling. This would be the point where I went outside and began an exploratory walk in the snow, soaking up all the sights and sounds of this familiar yet altered city on a new day.

“High Above Everything” takes a quieter, more serene approach as it looks down with peace and tranquility, drinking in the view before rising to almost exultant levels towards its end where it segues effortlessly into the comparatively more abrasive “Distorted Images”, a track I like to imagine is more reminiscent of looking up at the sky while its raining or snowing. It’s a peculiar experience, just watching the flakes drift continuously and infinitely down towards the ground; a processed guitar churns noisily in the backfield to mimic the falling flakes as the soft drones anchor the flat grey sky. The sombre tones continue in part one of the title track, with those predictable drones counterbalanced with some beautiful tinkling piano making it a grand affair; filled with a rich array of almost orchestral instrumentation it feels every bit as vast as the implied horizon of its namesake. “A Solemn Return Journey” once more strives to replace the heavily used drones with piano, with slow, strong, deliberate keystrokes generating a downtrodden but ¬†secretly pleased kind of sound. Despite our homeward journey there is still much beauty remaining, with the piercing and quavering sustained notes in the second part of the title track hanging strongly at the fore to create an air of confidence.

And that’s it. Closer “The Path Home” leaves us on an unobtrusive note, its 8 minute duration barely feeling like any time at all, and the album is done. Perhaps it was not Woods’s original intention to have his work compared with the wintery weather I/we are experiencing but I feel that good music is cross-compatible and can transfer its meaning to a variety of scenarios and feelings, and this album seems to perfectly mirror how I’ve been feeling about the snow lately; its uniting influence, its thorough deposition and its capability to transform the grey cityscape into a mass of bright, unusual white. It’s an album that matches that sensation of waking up one morning to find a fresh coating of snow and that exciting initial jaunt out to see, taking us through the motions of this quiet and changed winter wonderland.

I apologise, I’ve had about an hour’s sleep.