Contrary to the opinion of some, it's not really easy to make good ambient music. Sure, anyone can slap together some droning tones and reverbed guitar and call it ambient, but sparse ambient music that actually resonates and triggers something within a listener isn't something that is so easily done. Minor Shadows is one of those discs that makes it sound easy, though. I can honestly say that this is one of the best ambient releases that I've heard this year, and actually for some time. On only their second album, the trio has settled into a warm bed of sonics that sounds something like the best work of Labradford mixed with the quieter moments of Godspeed You Black Emperor.
One of the interesting things about the disc is that the group has managed to create a rather lush record with a fairly simple set of sounds. It's never overwhelming, but with guitars, bass, some electronic loops and samples and analogue keyboards, the 7 track release still manages to envelop the listener. The opening track of "In 1983 He Loved To Fly" opens with the simple sound of somewhat whistling while birds chirp in the background. As the birds chirp on, a deep-reverbed guitar melody drifts in over it all and some analogue keyboards that sort of mimic the bird sounds layer in around it. It's deceivingly subtle, and once the crux of the track is going, there are more elements to it than you realize. Broken down the middle with a subtle sound-sample of someone talking about flying, the track is melancholy, but builds just perfectly as it rises even more during the second half with a rich lower register of keyboards and bass.
That's a somewhat lengthy description for just one track, but that's what happens with good ambient music. Rather than becoming simple background music, it pulls you in more and begs for you to listen to each element a little closer. "Life Indoors" again mixes warm layers of analogue keyboards with pretty guitar melodies and a murmuring heartbeat sound for a quiet rhythm, while "Return To From Where We Came" is all stretched keyboard tones and backwards reverbed drones that hover and shift like whispy clouds passing overhead. "The Sick" puts just a little bit more urgency into the landscape, building with a guitar melody that feels a bit more tense than anything else while haunting keyboards linger. Everything winds together ever so slightly, only releasing in small fragments as taps of hi-hat patter and guitars sound like they want to build into a frenzy.
One could argue that the group is a bunch of masochists because they never let loose with a big flourish, but that's part of the joy with the release. Other than a couple sly hints, they never lead you into thinking that they're going to blow the roof off the place, instead opting for a 50-minute album of warm and steady tracks that shroud you up like a thick fog. Like most great music of this nature, I know I'll enjoy it even more when the cool weather arrives again (something about my equating warm drones and guitars with cool weather), but the fact that I found it so good while listening to it over and over again in 90 degree temperatures should say something.