Albums of the Decade: Thom Brennan – Mist (Space For Music, 2000)


Mist is a uniquely satisfying musical experience; its meditative passages precede the immersive work of Robert Rich’s Somnium, its cool synth lines and atmospheric drones capture the style of Ultimae’s roster before its existence, yet it’s also imbibed with qualities hailing from the New Age quasi-tribal sounds of Steve Roach. This distinctly modern foray of electronic music into more organic avenues achieves its goals perfectly, its sound timeless and deeply hypnotic.

Water is the driving force behind the record and the axis for its remarkable sonic consistency, each track led by similar synth drones yet defining another form of the substance as it appears in nature; it’s not all as vaporous as its title would suggest. Opener “Raingardens” sets us upon our path at the crossing point of liquid and gas, its deep ethereal washes of drone drifting lazily across its expanse evoking images of rainforests from afar, their vast acreages literally perspiring water vapour with each moment, tufts of clouds forming and dissipating over the treetops, whisked away to merge with the greater atmosphere above. We lose ourselves in watching, each moment its own but whose actions echo across millennia, time becoming a fuzzy notion in the uniformitarianism of the natural world.

“Cedars Against The Rain” returns to some forested clime a little later also, The Butterfly Effect trickling down through the album bringing with it an environment the bristles with energy, thrumming tones hanging like a dark sky over the needled branches that shiver in the wind and absorb the falling rain. It creates a sense of extraordinarily refined size and power, that feeling of human smallness in dense woodland, the trees responding to a larger power than themselves even. But in the skittering tones and weighted drones there exudes this sense of natural protection, of absolute resolve against the elements; they create a place of safety for humans amongst them, and we feel drawn to them instinctually in the passages here.

That size differential is brought up in preceding “Pondlife” also, though this time the feeling is somewhat reversed. We are observers of the aquatic realm only, our study from afar rather than within; as a result the music this time is glassy and refractive, the album-spanning drones a more distal entity lost to a world within which we do not naturally belong. But from our vantage point over this little pool we see the slidings and scurryings of its strange inhabitants, their movements silky and deliberate, the sound of their motions as crisp and as cool as the liquid water that sustains them. It’s the most vigorous track here, and even then it’s wrapped in an aqueous quiescence.

That leaves only the title track at the end, a polite mass of synth airs that clings to the ground in fragile obfuscations. On closer inspection the piece glimmers and twinkles with the motion of a trillion fine droplets suspended in air, a gravity defying rain that hangs rather than falls, each individual drop a valueless speck without its accompanying mass. There’s a hint of darkness in its obscurity, an unsettling feeling in how it grows to hide the world from us, but it is also a transformative phenomena, one that lends a strange new beauty to the landscape as it hugs the hillside, creeps between the tree trunks and gathers in the hollows. “Mist” reminds us that how you feel about losing your vision is simply a matter of perspective.

This is a contemplative effort, one that values finding a moment to immerse yourself fully within it; whilst we may not always be able to reconnect with nature in this modern world, Brennan highlights here how we’re able to effortlessly tap into it through the power of very carefully crafted music and a little personal time.