Ken Camden - Space Mirror - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Ken Camden - Space Mirror

by Daryl Worthington Rating:8 Release Date:2013-08-12

The last few years have seen a trend for solo guitarists using synth and delay pedals come into vogue and just as quickly go out again. As is often the case with any kind of left-field approach to music making, it becomes fashionable and the truly unique artists in the field get over shadowed by the, shall we say, less unique. Then after this inevitable saturation, those who use the same materials to create something that genuinely contributes to the progression of said approach get overlooked as they are lumped in with 'that' style. Ken Camden has created something which forges its own path using the tools of guitar and a few pedals, and for that reason deserves to be judged on his own merit.

The most startling thing about Space Mirror is how delicately composed the six tracks sound. Every drone and synthy guitar-tone sounds delicately sculpted and carefully placed. Subtle melodic lines and textures interweave and bounce off each other to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts, evoking the detailed string arrangements on label-mates Stars of the Lid's recent albums as much as the electronic explorations of fellow Kranky staple Keith Fullerton Whitman. The slow siren like notes which form the basis of 'Moon' are accentuated by gradually developing counter-melodies and phasing tones that gracefully and engagingly fill out the six or so minutes of the track, avoiding descending into hit or miss improvisation.

With a name like Space Mirror, there is, as expected, more than a hint of a sci-fi theme running through the music. The album conjures the optimism of a 60s public education film on space travel, while also capturing something of the eerie disorientation and cold metallic materials of space travel. On 'Eta Carinae', Popul Vuh-style, new-age guitar flourishes are played against a relentless march, Camden's guitar almost sounding like an organ. 'Trapezium' has metallic strums which sound as though they are generated by the movements of a space station rather than any instrument. The rich and diverse textures of each track make them completely absorbing, pulling you in as you try to locate microscopic details.

The pieces feel like cosmic occurrences. They are clearly part of a cohesive, unified whole, but each feels like a concise, self-contained event with a clear starting point and end. This might seem an obvious, almost superfluous observation to make about any piece of music. However, it is often the case with ambient and drone-centred albums (and this isn't a criticism of either method) that tracks just drift into each other.

Camden also avoids becoming a slave to his equipment. As mentioned above, every tone and texture sounds completely deliberate and carefully designed. Structurally, the pieces avoid aping the linear cliché of mindlessly overlapping parts over an initial idea to try and reach a critical mass of transcendence. So 'Antares' stretches out a simple concept. Melodic fragments and spacey noise come and go as the track rises and falls with a serene grandeur, achieving a progression which somehow sounds completely natural yet rigorously designed.

Camden uses familiar influences and techniques on this album. Reflecting electronic pioneers like Cluster or Neu! alongside his contemporaries such as Mark Mcguire. The key, though, is that these are reflections rather than direct duplication. Camden has taken the framework he begun building on his debut solo album, and progressed further into the creation of his own distinct take on what can be created with a guitar and some pedals.

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