Ken Camden – Dream Memory (Kranky, 2015)


It sort of feels like it’s been a long while since I fell in love with an Ambient record; much of 2015’s output has been decent enough but few things have really felt impressive and memorable up til now with Ken Camden’s latest expanse of guitar manipulations and synth pootlings in his latest record Dream Memory. Something about Camden’s ability to create kosmische and retro-ambient movements with a modern production style makes this a record that genuinely feels different and meaningful in a genre that seems to be continually finding corners of cliché to back itself into.

Immersing itself in the world of dreams we quickly find ourselves succumbing to its elusive and serene charms, with opener “Adenosine” slipping us out of our wakeful liveliness with harmonious vocal samplings, choral woos being provided by Angel Olsen and Emily Elhaj, before tumbling into slowly turning guitar drones filled with a sort of weirdly reverent fascination with the process, naively beautiful and formless as we contemplate the significance of sleep. Followup “Time Bend” seems to fit closely to its predecessor too, descending into warped guitars and syncopated synth lines that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Emeralds record, casting bold strokes of woozy kosmische sound from somewhere to sweep across the foreground; it’s deliciously well paced and simulates that pre-sleep blurriness well.

Hints at bodily and mental restoration are suggested at in the delicate movements of “Renewal” as it unmasks the guitar for the first and last time, suspending genteel pickings and arpeggiated synths in an edifying and substantive haze of drones of its own creation, those rich and deep undercurrents faded with a sense of age shepherding these more youthful and clear sequences forwards. With this revival in hand we begin to turn to subsequently brighter and livelier movements in “Curiosity”; short and searching pecks of curious synths fall out of the dark, probing with a naive aura about them, pandered to by growing washes of crooning guitar drones that summon themselves up with immediate maturity to quell these endless intrusions.

Of course, these internalised moments are rarely remembered, our mind chittering to itself on its own but never retained upon waking; “Dream Memory” roils in its dreamscape, lost in a midst of spacious electronica bouncing off the echo chamber as we slip further into the depths of sleep. But it’s not to last; the further we fall the less becomes clear, the idiosyncratic beats slipping away into tired oblivion, slipping into obfuscation and reverb as they fall into the recent memory of sleep. It’s almost a shame we lose sight of these subconscious moments as “Brain Work” paints a quaint, familial and interconnected picture in its cute guitar work and light synths, its call and response minimalism at the start making way for a complicated pattern of textural connections drifting pleasantly across the neural void and jockeying for space.

That only leaves the incredible, dare I say perfect, closer in “Asleep At The Wheel”; after all these light introspections Camden finally darkens things for the final track, inseminating a deep and luxurious cruise on beds of lush yet eerie guitar drone, the previous busyness and activity dropped in favour of stark and brooding minimalism as lights creep out of the darkness and slide past, minds briefly connecting on the quiet roads during the witching hour but quickly swallowed up by the blackness. It’s a brilliantly cool and dark nightcap to bring the album to a close, a faintly creepy physical journey to supplement the mental one we’ve since left behind across the course of the record. It’s just got a timeless atmosphere to it as it plumbs some of the same depths that Krautrock or Space Rock pursued in Ambient’s blossoming youth, but it’s got a modern clarity that makes it seem more impactful, more emotionally valuable somehow. Its story arc is present but limited, but there’s a palpable evolution of sound across the record that keeps things fresh and interesting, always exploring new avenues within the theme. Probably going to go down as one of the best, if not the best, album of the year for me; I highly recommend this record.