Anything Is Possible by Ben RathRelease date: June 1, 2018
Label: Sound In Silence Records
Manchester is synonymous with music. From the Factory Records days of Joy Division and John Cooper Clarke, to Muslimgauze, Samuel Kerridge, The Fall, and that nationalistic lump of ever-diminishing returns – Morrissey – a through line of fatalism can be felt. This is true of even the most disparate sounding of the city’s offspring. With a discerning ear you can also find a thread of melancholia in the output of Mr Scruff and The Chemical Brothers. This is a city that still carries hauntings of the recent past. Places like Mayfield Station, The Hotspur Press, and London Road Fire Station stand as feral reminders of lost futures. It seeps into the DNA of the place, informs the culture.
For Mancunian Ben Rath, however, his music seems to have escaped the trappings of this tenebrous history. It seems to be gilded with flora and opulence. The vibrating electronics of Anything is Possible are numinous and dazzling and he seems to be tapping into a sonic palette squeezed from the grace of nature. This is the rapt energies of Malick’s cinema as opposed to the rabid merciless jungle of Herzog. Or at least that’s how it appears upon first listen.
On tracks like ‘It Was Always Inside’, ’Flow of Creation’, and ‘Joy’ we are treated to warming ambient glows that gently sidle into place. The former sounding like the slow birth of a new dawn and the latter a warped music box playing an almost recognisable melody from a forgotten childhood. A corrupted nursery rhyme for swatting hands who are unsure of their owners. ‘Sacred’ enters glitchier territory. The sun-dappled electronics of Fennesz are clearly an influence. As with Endless Summer beneath the stuttering delights exists a sense of loss. That ache of unspoken longing. This is accentuated even more so with the arrival of crackling fuzz at the halfway mark. A sheen of dirt and all the connotations of shamed desire that stow away with it. This is music forcing its way out of the mire.
As the album progresses this motif of light rising from the darkness keeps on creeping in. What starts as a gentle series of ponderous strums on ‘Innate Value’ gradually morphs into a hulking, transcendent beast. ‘All Part Of One’ rushes. There is great urgency here as the organ buried beneath reams of distortion plays out a heraldic opus. Gleaming with hope and soft melancholy. The brighter the light, the darker the shadow. It’s inescapable. Pure unabridged joy somehow also contains an uncertain trembling.
Often, with ambient music, we are given both the time and the space to allow ourselves to unfold into the soundscape. This provides an opportunity to imprint our own structures upon the sounds. Our minds, subconsciously, search out rhythms and melodies that might not appear apparent to other listeners. We hear based upon the person that we are and the various experiences that, cobbled together, make up “us”. Ambient noise, like gazing up at drifting clouds, allows you to peer inside your own psyche as you emboss shapes and narratives on to these subtly shifting vistas. These can pass from malevolence to benevolence, even become benign. For some this is calming, soothing, even. For others a terrifying trap to escape. And, for others still, just a bit tedious. Fortunately Rath’s work here can never be accused of sloping into tedium. Magnetic drones breathe life into the textures. This is not afraid of the murk but it is always emerging from it. This is music that sheds its decaying skin as if transformed from within a silky chrysalis.
The final two tracks, whilst seeming to offer converse messages (based upon the titles), crystallise this perfectly. ‘Give Up Trying’ is thick with surges and shards of hopeful digital notes. They strain against one another as if this is a time lapse of dense woodland reaching for the light. It’s writhing but orderly. And, again, a deep drone drives up from the depths. It’s almost machine-like but erring, always, on the side of nature. For a track named as such, the burgeoning thunder seems to tell an opposing tale.
‘Anything Is Possible’ whirs and soars. This somehow simulates the relief of being airlifted out of a forest fire. Airy currents calming blistered skin. A sound that starts expansive and somehow grows further. Spreading itself wider, shooting higher and scooping up worrisome lows. From start to finish this record is transcendental. It lifts, it gifts wings. It lightens loads and massages worries to the peripheries of the mind. It never makes the mistake of believing that there is only light, however. There is an inherent shade within this, forever underlying and informing Rath’s approach. It’s not so much racing from it as it is raised up by its crepuscular foundations. A crud speckled face tilted towards a warming sun.