dw002 - Samsa - Sounds Good On Paper

Electroambient Space - Phil Derby (c) 2004
All of Nathan Larson's albums as Samsa have an exploring quality about them, as if discovering previously unknown sonic terrain. Nowhere is this more evident than on Sounds Good On Paper, a veritable buffet of 20 short snippets to choose from. The processed vocals of the brief "Drifter" start things off, moving into the murky organic depths of "Plate Walk Away," a subterranean excursion not unlike darker works by Robert Rich, Lustmord, and Stephen Philips. The amusingly named "Goat Abyssal" has similar murky sounds, but is a tad lighter and includes a spoken word section in the background. Most of the disc, though, is very much a journey to the dark side of sound, titles like "Dead Telephones" conveying the stark nature of most of the material, and "Quantum Foam" a perfect indicator of the mix of dark sci-fi with cavernous organics. "Vertical Dust" raises the intensity and the haunt factor yet another notch, as does the equally chilling "Ubligum Day." And so it goes from there, largely formless save for "Whiskey Ditch," which has a tribal beat and is the most fully developed piece of music, my personal favorite. The rest is experimental and challenging in a good way, scary music for the thinking man.

All Music Guide - Jim Brenholts (c) 2003
"Sounds Good on Paper" is a uniquely structured CD from Samsa, the recording alias for Nathan Larson. (He was also Brook Rongstad's partner at Green House Music.) He takes the concept of warping sounds to a new level as he manipulates found sounds, drones, samples and damn near anything he can use. The results are very dark and eerie atmospheres. It is not, however, "ambient" at least not by Erik Satie's definition. This music is not ignorable! It demands attention! Nathan's soundscapes pierce listeners' personal spaces and make themselves known. This is an excellent CD.

Ambientrance - David Opdyke (c) 2003
Random mutation and crossbreeding!! Does that sounds unpredictable... threatening? Well, in the experimental hybrids of Sounds Good On Paper... it's both! And pleasantly so, methinks. Samsa alters and re-alters sound, space and perception.

Drifter opens the whopping 20-track disc with a brief slurry of vocal fragments... Perhaps it's only a mirage that I think I hear music when crossing the grumbling, grinding grey morass of Plate Walk Away, a most oblique trek. Similarly devoid of cues, though lighter in substance, Goat Abyssal also plumbs the depths of impossibly fluid territories.

Unused Vessels seems to cruise slowly through the subaquatic glimmerings of unknown audio archipelagos. A descent through the black twisting wires of Dead Telephones (6:23) rivals the dread of some Lustmordian ear-visions. Those tortured environs ooze directly into the groaning caverns of more-organic Quantum Foam, where despite the dimness, it's easy to envision dripping stalactites.

Forward Music is a little of that latter, maybe; the forward part though seems more like crisscrossing diagonally as tune shards skew in cyclic motions, followed by the wispy ghost sounds emanating from Temporal Lobes. The windswept contours of Whiskey Ditch seem to faintly beat with spectral rhythms, though all could be a mirage in this canyon.

Edgier eruptions spew from Unstable Molecule, but not for long, though short-runner status goes to the churning semi-ethnic stew of Lone Star (0:48).
With its rumble-swooshing loops, Uphill Both Ways leaves one more unanswered question.

Several murkier dronetracks share a nearly monochromatic soundrange, though along Sounds Good On Paper's nearly-74-minute trek through unrecognizable worlds, there are a number of detours, unpredictable if not always threatening. Altered surreality shifts soundshapes into shadowy dreamworlds of abstraction. B+

The Ambient Review - Brian Bieniowski (c) 2003
Though their original label collective, Green House Music, is sadly gone, the respective artists have moved on to continue the creation of various types of ambient and electronic music. Nathan Larson, who records as Samsa, had a respectable track on the Green House compilation Convergent Evolution, and has pressed his own way by starting a new CDR label devoted to dark ambient called Dark Winter. Apparently, Larson has quite a backlog of tracks: enough to fill several albums worth--this release, Sounds Good On Paper is the second (of three) such productions this year.

I'll admit up front, lest there be any confusion, that I have never been all that turned on by dark ambient recordings. Certainly there are dark ambient titles that have appealed to me, but, by and large, menacing ambient nightmare-scapes are just not my thing. That said, upon listening to the first track on Sounds Good..., "Drifter," I got nervous. Distorted vocal chatter, and echoed conversations end up sounding distinctly frightening--I'm glad I cannot understand what is actually being said; surely something threatening! But, as I was soon to learn, there are twenty tracks on this disc--and a wealth of fabulously diverse material. A perfect example is the next track, "Plate Walk Away" which inhabits early Alio Die territory--subterranian drones, steely synth washes, plinking noises, and a lullaby-like deep "melody" behind, which is quite similar to the Musso template seen on Under an Holy Ritual. Now that's more like it!.

I'll forgo my usual track-by-track rundown, but I will say that one of the most positive aspects about Sounds Good On Paper is its diversity--surely if you dislike one track, you will find another that really "does it" for you. Standouts for me were "Goat Abyssal" which also inhabits the same Alio Die-inspired terrain as track two, complete with gurgling watery noises and stretched, mutated sounds, perhaps organic in nature. "Unused Vessels" out-Rapoons Rapoon, with walls of ambience looped and decaying all over themselves. I love soundscaping like this; it's easy to become lost in all the near-overwhelming, but complimentary, tones. "Dead Telephones" also has a distinctly Rapoon-like quality, stemming from the angelic, textured vocalizations--Samsa is far more laid back and traditionally ambient, lacking the percussive drive of the majority of Rapoon's material.

Many of the tracks have that "inside the machine" quality; claustrophobic, mysterious, somehow menacing. "Quantum Foam" electrically operates around you. Unfortunately, you do not know what sort of machine surrounds you, or how it works--it could be fulfilling some horrifying purpose above, and you may never know. "Still Do" seems to occupy an organic place, with insectoid chirrups and organ synth-tone melodies slowed down to almost non-motion. "Forward Music" shifts and slides, never settling into familiar patterns beyond an overlying loop. Perhaps this is the music of the future, one we may never have the consciousness to truly understand as future denizens of Earth might. "Whiskey Ditch" is an almost glitchy composition, as if dark ambient and the clicks and cuts school of digitalism have combined into an oddly-formed beast ambling along on muted percussion. This is a great track, and a highlight of the album alongside tracks two and three. Whoa!--"Unstable Molecule" surprises us with a blast of shuddering noise, which eventually plummets us down deep into a thin tunnel which is "Nolder." Something is down there, but do we truly wish to know what? "Paper Bird" is a tribute to Mister Rogers, and indeed we find Larson's touchingly cut-up vocal samples of Rogers' voice--a fitting dark ambient memorial. I wonder what Rogers would have thought of it, had he heard it.

Larson has crafted an often difficult, often beautiful work of utmost variation. While Sounds Good On Paper lacks the continuity to allow it to become more than a collection of disparate tracks, in a way I find this to be a benefit. I must admit that much of this CD operated in a more menacing territory than I am inclined to. However, this is purely my predilection, and I am positive that those interested in the darker sides of electronic manipulations will enjoy the totality of Sounds Good... very, very much. That said, there is much to enjoy here even if your tastes fall on the less spooky side of ambient. This is listenable, risk-taking work, and the numerous risks taken are to Larson's credit. "Sounds Good" indeed.

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