Album ReviewsReviews

Review: Ulaan Passerine (2013)

artist: Ulaan Pas­ser­ine
release: Ulaan Pas­ser­ine
format: 2xMC
year of release: 2013
label: Brave Mys­ter­ies
dur­a­tion: 67:04

detailed info: dis​cogs​.com

The name Ulaan Pas­ser­ine did­n’t imme­di­ately ring a bell, but once I found out that it’s a pro­ject by Steven R. Smith of Hala Strana (among oth­ers), things star­ted fall­ing into place. This is a man with a respec­ted, if rel­at­ively obscure, musical his­tory, who played a cent­ral role in estab­lish­ing exper­i­mental folk sounds in the US since the late nineties.

Even without that con­text, though, this new double tape on Brave Mys­ter­ies would have blown me away. These four pieces — each occupy­ing a tape side of six­teen to eight­een minutes — are best clas­si­fied as freefolk, but Smith has such a strong voice (fig­ur­at­ively speak­ing) that com­par­is­ons with other artists are prac­tic­ally use­less to draw.

In these instru­mental tracks, Ulaan Pas­ser­ine con­jures up a musical land­scape that lies some­where between the plains of the US and the steppe of Cent­ral Asia, a sort of myth­ical place that unites two oppos­ing sides of the world. It’s the sandy, raw, yet gentle notes return­ing in many tracks that remind me most of the lat­ter loc­ale: a magical blend of over­tones, wind, and psy­che­delic synths. This is a power­ful ingredi­ent, but there is also the acous­tic gui­tars, bells, bowls, piano, strings, etc. — a warm amer­ican folk tinge. All of these feel more like nat­ural ele­ments of a musical world than char­ac­ters speak­ing their indi­vidual lines. Ambi­ent music, in a way, but of the kind that reveals a lovely rich­ness when scru­tin­ised.

There’s not really an over­arch­ing nar­rat­ive to the album; each tape side is a lengthy vign­ette that can be played equally well on its own or as part of a whole. It’s a series of glimpses into the same place, but from dif­fer­ent angles, dif­fer­ent times, sea­sons, weather con­di­tions.

Achiev­ing max­imal res­ults with a mod­est instru­mental setup and melodic com­pos­i­tion, Ulaan Pas­ser­ine is a superb folk/drone piece with a col­our of its own. It’s one of the releases this year that you should­n’t pass by without giv­ing it at least a passing glance. For me, it’s one of the favour­ite things to come my way this year, and will serve as a spring­board to dive back into Smith’s back cata­logue.

Reviewed by O.S.

[Note: the tape is sold out from the label, but a digital ver­sion of the album can be bought dir­ectly from the artist]


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