Aspen, Music from Passing Cars

Released: February 2001

Bevan Smith's third album follows the same general path as his first two efforts: blending soft, warm, and lilting melodies with interesting rhythms and the occasional live instrument. There is a peacefulness to all of Aspen's work, a kind of inner quiet that belies so much of the work released in the "experimental electronic music" vein. Some would argue that it is Smith's New Zealand roots that forge in him a green, aquatic musical vibe. But that's generalizing things, don't you think? The bottom line is that Music from Passing Cars, like Are You that Retail Snob? before it, is a collection of songs, not tracks, complete with beginnings, middles, and ends. Each song has interesting melodies, fresh rhythms, and an unusual sound or two to make the composition more than a simple retread of Vangelis. Take "Frozen Soy Milk Experiment." (Yes, the titles, as usual, are hilarious.) It starts with one of those unusual sounds--a wailing organ cry that seems like a cross between a siren and a chorus. The rhythm, which kicks in after about a minute, starts simply, with a glockenspiel, but then builds by adding snare, bass, hihats, and so on. The wailing sound continues in the background, as the rhythm builds, hovering over everything. Suddenly, there is a pause. The wail stops, and at once I feel relieved and restful, the way I do when I'm walking through the rain, only to stop momentarily under a small roof. With the wail gone, the rhythm takes center stage: perfectly clear clicks of metal and skin. It's a beautiful rhythm; I don't really notice its beauty until this point. Soon, however, the respite ends, the wail starts, and I suddenly hear the wail in a different way. It's less a wail, really, than a slowly building harmony of voices all saying "Aahh." And so the song continues; and so the album goes.

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