I, like many others, was an electronic dance music listener before coming into Ambient. Trance, House, Garage, Progressive Electronic: these were the spaces I cut my teeth on, and I often attribute my particular penchant for Trance and its long developing atmospherics as a large part of my transition to Ambient and Drone’s carefully metered out elongations.
By the time I arrived on the Trance scene its heyday was well and truly over, the remaining artists either disappearing into obscurity or turning into the more popular genres. Despite this my roots still remain in Electronic, but for a long time the sounds of my youth have been largely absent. Many years later though I’m starting to see strange threads here and there, flickers of remembrance in the esoteric works of niche young artists that remind me of not just my teenage years, but the amazing power of time and distance.
I don’t mean to suggest that ethereal Frenchwoman Malibu is reviving Ambient Trance by any means: much of her (albeit very limited) discography is distinctly fusion. Which is what draws me to One Life, and the way this short EP manages to imbibe qualities halfway between Chicane (in his most elevated moments) and Stars of the Lid (post-2000). This is a bizarre sentence to read back for someone like me caught between realms, and one I never thought I’d see let alone write. But when you consider Malibu’s pre-existing talent for melting hypermodern (for lack of a better term) Alternative Trance works by the likes of Himera and Tohji into sublime efforts of rarefaction, hearing is believing.
The beach field recordings and tidally delicate synth drones that appear in opener “Nana (Like A Star Made For Me)” alongside vocals more distant that Grouper’s most tenuous moments really sounds like a deep cut off of some mid-2000s Dream Trance like OceanLab. It slips enigmatically into the even more hovering and ungraspable “Tilting on Windmills”, whose diffuse flotations coupled with the flickering synth chords could have come straight from Chicane’s experimental archives. It comes so tantalisingly close to solidity, yet remains this untouchable memory, desire.
Then when mid-album lever point “Camargue” comes and goes in its flurry of momentary surging energy, we replace these synthetic creations with more Neo-Classically inspired ones. The same gentle surf in the opener returns in “Lost at Sea”, parameterising space with its distinctly more concrete piano chords and gossamer strings as it defines some abstract sense of confusion and loss whilst drawing the borders around its own presence, own existence.
Then there’s the cornerstone seminal closer “One Life”, rising from the melancholia like some sliver lost from Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid. Plaintive strings heave in pained overlapping sequences, angelic choral fragments emerging from cracks through these monoliths in beckoning promise, and departing sadness. It’s the pain felt when one touches the source of the problem, that surging reality of confrontation that must now be faced in rolling, woeful waves that will soon pass, but will overwhelm for a little while.
It’s a lot for so little, but Malibu exemplifies the magic that creators have today, the power they have to reduce and refine and condense vast swathes of stylistically disparate sound into contemporary performance. This intelligence, this elegance, of seeing genre not as obstacle but opportunity is exactly why Ambient will persist: who can stop these sonic interlopers, and why would we want to when they can evoke such pathos?