The North Sea and Rameses III
Night of the Ankou
mbient music is more image than verb. It’s the music you should have had as a child, when you’d shut your eyes hard in the midst of day and see ink-shapes of light and pin-prick color screened against the backs of your eyelids. That makes it almost impossible to write about without falling on the same list of adjectives and stock-set images; it also makes me think there’s no point in wasting those very terms on such intangible material. Of course, there’s an odd spiritual grace behind something this heady becoming so inexpressible, so deaf to the brain. I come back to the same words, and they make me want to drop out and never write again if I can have my headphones: damn, this stuff is beautiful.
Type Records has been one of the most consistently compelling ambient and foresighted electro-classical labels of the last few years. From releases by fuzz-noodler wunderkind Khonnor to the sampled stateliness of Deaf Center and the recent shipsunk droning of Helios, the label has taken subtle, almost unremarkable steps forward with each newly-signed artist, but stayed close enough to the core of their atmospheric grift to both challenge and soothe the fans who buy their material based on imprint-name alone.
Their latest release, Night of the Ankou—a joint effort by London’s ambient trio Rameses III and Tulsa’s resident eccentric folkie The North Sea—finds the label’s growing shadow falling on Eastern-tinged ambient-psych. Originally released on a small Finnish label and out-of-print, the album’s yet another case of mutual artistry bridged by new steel—the two have never met in person, but sent their work back and forth to be re-envisioned by the other. While it’s often hard to split hairs given the intricate layering of their two compositions, it’s more obviously just patently absurd to try; the sinewy grace of the work as presented here defies authorship.
“Death of the Ankou” begins with slow atmospheric grafting: a dim slide of prayer offered in the sands of something temporal, a sound beatific and charmingly antique. There’s a distinctly Eastern feel to its earthy smoke and tingling bells, a transcendence outside of Sundays and prayer schools that flickers like a reflection in a pool of candle-wax beginning to gum up as the light’s snuffed out. It’s dense, hardening into unnatural shape, and indefinite. But the second creation, “Night Blossoms Written in Sanskrit” is the real stunner. More acoustic than “Death,” its evolution also feels more natural. An ambient daze wafts into a section of strummed acoustic guitars before tunneling back towards the origin, sanding off the rising grit and leaving just the hum of electronic choirs and the dim shimmer of bell-tones. It’s a classic couch-slouch, the kind of collaboration that feels like finding a three-day weekend to press repeat, grab a pillow, and submerge yourself in time, faded and inessential.
After “Night Blossoms”’s motionless rise, Type label-head Xela adds a remix of “Death of the Ankou” which sifts distorted vocal samples, watery percussion, and clipped sound effects into the original and manages to stand apart as an entirely new creation. But it’s the first two compositions by The North Sea and Rameses III that hold the day with the reissue of Night of the Ankou, marked by the questions we’d rather not have answered whispered in a voice we don’t recognize as our own. And that’s just what I said before: North Sea and Rameses III are more image than verb. Maybe it’s a rosary bead in the rain, or maybe it’s the convict in the nunnery; either way, it’s a transcendent blend of the unearthly palmed in a hand as clean as one can get it.