Although they've been releasing excellent things for some time now, the Plug Research label made a huge leap in terms of great music in 2001. Not only did they release DNTEL's amazing Life Is Full Of Possibilities, but Safety Scissors created the excellent Parts Water as well. In addition to these two artists, though, I'd accidentally overlooked another great release in the form of Overnight by Chessie.
Taking a completely different route than either of the above artists, Chessie is the duo of Stephen Gardner and Ben Bailes. The two create a smooth mixture of electronic and organic, employing elements of minimal techno and ambient, as well as textural guitars and other instruments. Based on the theme of travel by trains, Overnight chugs along in downright hypnotic ways. They've got things in common with both post rock groups like Tarentel, as well as the quieter side of minimal electronic artists like Monolake. If that sounds like an interesting combintation, it's because it is.
The disc starts out with "Electro-Motive," and the slowly building beat literally mimics the sound of a train engine warming up it's engine. Very faint and subtle melodies wrap themselves around the beat like steam rolling out and through the wheels, and eventually blasts of white noise burst through like whistles through the fog. It's as if each seperate element of the train were translated into a musical representation in the track, and despite the loud bursts, it pulls with a soft tug. Moving on, "Daylight" takes a short melodic loop and builds a complete song around it, layering on filtered guitars and other gauzy layers of sound. The train is now moving at a decent pace and you're hearing it underneath as you look out the window and across the warm countryside.
The explanations above may sound a little corny, but Overnight is one of those albums that really does ooze atmosphere. It's downright cinematic in the way that different tracks conjure up images in your head, and while some tracks are content to leisurely drift (the almost-not-there "Lineside"), others rumble right along (the murky minimal house feel of "Pantograph Up"). On the dueling, shimmering guitar melodies of "S To U," the group sounds like what the Cocteau Twins might be doing if they were still around today minus Liz Frazier (yes, that's a good thing). The most abrasive track on the album arrives in the album closer of "Eyes And Smiles," which starts out with heavy layers of white-noise guitars, but peaks out about halfway through before coming back with a thick finale. While most tracks on the disc are pretty linear and straightforward in their progression (such is with most ambient music), the actual journey that the tracks take is rather exciting most of the time. Another excellent release from the group, and the label they're on.