Philip Atherton, based among the red cities of Arizona, wrote and recorded Velveteen Vaccine (The Promise Of An Open Road was released a couple months after) shortly before the birth of his son. New critics will disagree with any critic's revelation that life affects art, but it's hard not to surmise Atherton's new role as father did not affect the outcome of this album, which is very accessible, very heady ambient music.There are times when the music swaddles you in rich textures and times when the layers build under and raise you to the top of amorphous heights. Drawn-out loops cycle back into themselves and the songs arrive in the middle of their own creation so that each, for however long it runs, is a plateau.
On Secret Passage grace and precision mark tracks like the chime-happy "Dragonfly" and then the sunrise eloquence of "Horizon" (the last track on the album and incidentally the first track Atherton played for his son after his birth). It is one of the highlights that creates a serene landscape that feels comforting. It kept picturing a crystal cathedral as the tones are warm and pure. There is also the magnetism of "Sky" and muted symphony of "Low Tide."
The Promise Of An Open Road starts off with "Chem Trail" which has jazzy sounding Amon Tobin inspired drums and warm pads that have a tinge of white noise. There is just enough snap in the snare to drive the cloudiness of the music forward and not leave it stagnant for long. Atherton tips his hat to dub-step (as well as Burial) on the next track called "Wanderlust". The song becomes lost in a maze of synths that are driven by a consistent beat. "Dividing Black From Blue" is the centerpiece of the album and is a solid song that slightly overstays its welcome. I did throughly enjoy when he deviates from the drum programming and starts to sound like Aphex Twin.
There isn't anything wild or eccentric going on with Secret Passage. The music is straightforward ambience that Atherton approaches with a confident ear and artisan's touch for musical control. No beat or sample seems out of place, no song too heavy, if it's going for heavy, and no song too light, if it's going for light. Some tracks shimmer, others simmer with emotion. All of them, it seems, are designed to make it a bit easier to breath, but it’s the solitude inherent in each track that makes me believe this album was written, above all, for Atherton's son rather than whoever is reading this. That said, it doesn't mean it wasn't meant for you.
Promise Of The Open Road is a much more beat driven album then its predecessor. The tones darker and the record felt more ominous to me. All in all the two records compliment each other nicely.
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