James A McDermid is an English Ambient artist who has appeared on Polar Sees Recordings, Cathedral Transmission and 1834. This is possibly his most personal album.
“This album is dedicated to my sister, Harriet, who died in August 2016. Throughout the 2 years she was ill – leading up to her death – I had started writing music as a way to privately articulate what I was feeling. After she’d passed away, there was the question around what to do with the many tracks I had written; they had, in all honesty, been written for her. For me to perhaps leave them sitting on a hard-drive seemed a disappointing end to what amounted to, in my mind, a tribute to her. About 6 months later, I was fortunate enough to be offered a 25 track album release (titled Ghost Folk) though Canadian label, Polar Seas Recordings, in April 2017.
Her death is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me; once the original shock dissipated, a wall of grief fell on me and, as a result, I found it an almost impossible task seeing my world in quite the same way as I once had. The wear and tear of life became suffocating, so I continued with the idea of channeling what I was feeling, into music; however, coming to terms with Harriet’s death, rather than her illness, started to cloud and confuse what I was doing.
“The Vagabond” is a short and sweet opener utilizing various chimes and a slightly cold drone which comes in waves. The chimes resonate out and cast light against the drones. You get the feeling that this is a bit of letting go, as if it is environmental and the chimes are making the music by a breeze rushing through them.
“All the Shutters Are Closed” a slow building series of drones and field recording build up enveloping the listener in a storm of sound. Buried deep other drones start to become noticeable with their darker textures. They start to force their way through and are able to shine, They are deep and low drones with tendrilous sound that have a somewhat melancholic edge to them. As the track continuous the drones become more pronounced taking centre stage and proceed to wring out as much emotion as they can. A howling drone takes in the background coating the track and adding another layer before eventually taking over the track towards the end.
“I Put A Letter In My Pocket” the types of drones contained herein are ones that I always associate with being airborne and flying over everything, looking down and surveying the territory. They have that floating feeling, as well as one that has fluctuating synth generated sounds. Having the slightly experimental flourishes of the fluctationg drones give the music an extra layer of freedom, as if something is being blown away and taken by the wind.
“I’ll Take One Who Loves Me” a lo-fi opening with static/distortion and a rollicking somewhat free form acoustic guitar which is a change of flavour to the music. Music that is of a lo-fi nature for me has a more intimate nature than that of something highly produced it. It also has a sense of immediacy. In the back ground the faintest of shape shifting drones can be heard and they have sounds that compliment to the tones generated by the guitar. The drones pulse, chop and resonate as their presence becomes more defined, switching with guitar as being the tracks focal point. The guitar finishes off the track with a nice repeating section at the end.
“Bunny” Harsh storm, Field Recordings and Ghostly apparitions give this the feeling commonly associated with Ambient music that is centred around memory and how it informs our lives. What this all means is possibly only known by the artist himself.
“Within Reach” the music isn’t crystal clear, but it feels like dawn is upon us and the day is just starting with all possibilities available. Shimmering sounds radiate over a collection of drones, fractured sounds and possibly a voice buried deep within. The music is constant in the way it flows with a relaxing feel present and only briefly extends outwards. The ending of the track is the converse to the opening where it feels like things are coming down.
“Worse Than The Last Look” distorted and wind-swept sounds battle it out to be heard. The piece feels a bit more experimental than the others as a lot of the elements are buried and you can hear melodies deep within, that if not for the distorted approach to the track could totally change the effect of the music.
“If You Concede” from silence acoustic guitar, quiet voices and drones appear. The repetitive nature of the voice whispering the title forms part of the music which is loop based with acoustic parts also repeating. The music is joined by a collection of rumbling, dark distorted drones which are threatening to overflow and drone out the voice and acoustic guitar. Hypnotic in nature the track feels like a bit of tug of war between the two elements, resulting in the darker side winning, but with the clarity of the voice and guitar still being heard. Sonicly a rich track, it is more than just two sound types with a lot of layering and textures involved in creating such a heavy sound.
“Eastern Block” A relaxing warped drone track with backwards loops and icy tones that cut across. Chimes are featured, but have a very cold sound to the track, which sounds like it’s being played backwards and consists of a series of short drones. As the piece builds, the more layers are added and more complex it gets. Vocal elements add a melodic touch to it, which steers it away from being too cold.
“Last Year” Completely manipulated sounds that sound positively Sci-Fi based warp and pulse in this short-lived interlude which seems quite different from the rest of the album. I am not sure of its position on the album.
“I Saw Red, And Through The Red, Nothing” rumbling, cloaked drones that sound like they are broken up and not linear from the basis of the track. Minimal in nature, the movements are not deep troughs and high valleys, rather more entrenched in frequency and slight variations. They are layers to the piece with the top layer being more haunting, as well as a slightly ominous one that is best heard in the last thirty seconds of the track as the other elements make way.
“Faraway Too Close” field recordings of rain feel like they are washing away something. McDermid is adept at slowly drawing out the depths in the pieces and this is best displayed in this track. A horn like drone forms a rhythm while a whispered indecipherable voice repeats something that feels over and over. Melodic drones billowing in the wind add a feeling of hopefulness to the music. The contrast between the penultimate and final tracks are outstanding and show the many dimensions to McDermid’s work.
You get the feeling of McDermid’s sisters passing in the music. The album is quite moody, at times dark and at other times shrouded and buried. It’s not totally in despair, but you get the feeling that the artist is coming through the other side, such is the balance of light and dark that is either included in the same track or on different tracks. If you like music that plays with colour and shade, “Tonal Glints” may be for you.