36 – Dream Tempest (2014)

One of the overwhelming sensations found in 36’s work over the years has been, in his own words, a sense of “glowing melancholy”; myself, I would have described it as a sense of inseparable nostalgia. There’s always been a component in Dennis Huddleston’s music that seems filled with wist and regret, yearning for a return to simpler and younger times. His latest and 6th full length LP Dream Tempest doesn’t seem to divert too far away from this as it ensconces itself in childhood daydreams and tries to force out the disappointing reality of adulthood.

And so the title track opens the album on twinkling turnings of a delicate synthscape, faux violins rushing to fill the dark interstitial void with an ominous thrumming. Ominous it is, but tempestuous it is not, and almost disappointingly no track on the record breaks out into a calamitous tumult of sound that the namesake would suggest. That being said, the tempest itself manifests in more subtle forms, worming its way through the undercurrents; “Sun Riders”, the title piece of his previous EP (of which every track appears here) warbles into view with celestial but earthbound ambitions, floating on naive and rather submissive drones, the hopes and longings of a child fascinated by the dream of space. A little later “Tired” drifts in on smudged fragments of field recordings and Basinski-esque drone snippers, a downtrodden and bleary number reflecting from a hypnagogic place on those childhood hopes.

Sometimes we’re allowed to peek into the mind of that lost child though, and it’s far brighter and more refreshing than the melancholic and wistful sequences entertained in the retrospectives. The gorgeous “Airglow” lightens the atmosphere from the early trio of rather oppressive pieces with a short and lightweight interlude filled with thin synths, before toppling into the beauteous toybox tinklings and thick, cosy drone currents of “Play”. It’s a surprisingly meaty and focused track, lost in its own carefree and irresponsible world, oblivious in its naive tunnel vision. Perhaps the last bastion of this sound appears in the almost playful, but rather uninnocent, empowered toybox sequences of “Hyperbox”, unfolding rapidly as multiple layers of delicate but quick instrumentation, tactical windings and soft vocal coos shimmering out of the urgent mix.

The latter half of the album chases this eager little number and begins to settle back down into what I would call more familiar territory as things collapse into the softly shifting drone territory of the later pieces. “Perfect Numbers” signals our throwback piece for this album, employing the classic recitation of random numbers over eager, arpeggiated synth riffs before migrating into the downtrodden movements of “Redshift” as we watch our old dreams accelerate away from us in the measured, smeared waves of growling drone. Not forgotten though, as “Always” is keen to remind us in its expansive and cathartic fugues of dry, dense, grinding drone and regretful opening moments of trumpetal verses, altogether submissive and acceptant of its fate but still holding on to that wonder of what might have been, forever.

Fortunately Dream Tempest seems to display a return to more fully realised and conceptually clear form for 36 after the rather flimsy themes of Shadow Play, but there is still something holding me back a little. Much like its predecessor it feels oftentimes more like a strong suite or collection of singles rather than a unified whole; it’s not until the latter half until I feel like I can appreciate the cohesion as the tracks settle into their idiosyncrasies, whilst the first half seems to flounder a little in indecision and flip-flop between sonic styles before converging into a more allied entity. Still, it’s an enjoyable and immersive listen with its fair share of spellbinding, emotionally tugging moments.

You can stream the album for free as well as buy it for a modest sum at the Bandcamp page.