Friday 26 February 2021

Dark Ambient Review: Songs For Distorted Times

Dark Ambient Review: Songs For Distorted Times

Review by Casey Douglass

Songs For Distorted Times

Songs For Distorted Times is a dark ambient album from composer John Donovan Malley, and it was born from the strangeness and the sorrow of the Covid pandemic last year. Even if you are lucky to be rich enough that the misery barely reached the door of your mansion, the eerieness of the abandoned streets, the closed shops and the plague atmosphere would surely have still got through to you. I’m not sure there’s any avoiding it.

As any artist worth their salt would do, John has poured his own perceptions of this (hopefully) once in a lifetime event, and created a dark collection of tracks that both soothe and agitate the soul. I say agitate because many of the tracks contain a harshness that shreds like a sinister ghoul waiting to drag the listener away for some blood-curdling fun in the corner. Even the tracks that might first be thought of as sweet, contain barbs that will latch into your skin. The track Romantic Suffering is a great example of this, with its gentle piano notes, looming drone, and sweet female vocal, singing such lyrics as “Where there is sickness, may it find you” and “I hope you suffer in a romantic way.”

Within The Temple of Machines is probably my favourite track. It opens with a rushing low hiss and an echoing space. The hiss is like an angry, malevolent exhalation from some lunatic android. These hisses make up a good deal of the soundscape, like a technological pit of demons infesting some kind of factory or warehouse. Near the midpoint, a trundling sound begins, hinting at machinary and a fizzing at electricity. The second half of the track is also underpinned by a sacral chant-like drone, making the space that the sounds are inhabiting feel all the darker.

Another great track is Naomi’s Cry (Humans as a Biohazard). It’s only around 90 seconds long, but it contains a great mix of sounds. Prominent is a female voice talking about Silicon Valley, apps, and humans as a biohazard. Behind this monologue are technological sounds like a harddrive spinning up, a computer beeping, a modem dialling in and screeching, and the keys of a computer keyboard being pressed. The juddery tones behind things steeps the track in an ominous feeling of “Haha, beware fools!”. That’s what I got from it anyway. Technology has certainly played its role in this pandemic, from creating the vaccine to spreading outrage and fake information. I think this track reflects that in its own dark way.

The final track that I wanted to mention was Of Wolf and Wind. This track contains exactly what you might think, the opening wolf howls and the whistling wind are soon joined by a mellow string-like tone. There is a warmth to the backing swells of sound and a little later, a chime-like note. I liked this track because it brought to mind a clear, crisp moonlit night, and a space without people, a space without a world changing virus, and a space without technology. A lovely track to end the album with.

Songs For Distorted Times is a dark ambient album in which you can clearly feel what John had used for its inspiration. The mechanical aspects of some of the tracks seems to hint at the way that the modern world has brought this pandemic upon itself, but also how the world will try to get itself out of this shit again, which is largely “more technology”. The soundscapes are dark and hissing, and the dose of nature at the end with the wolf howls and the wind maybe hints at a more balanced way to live with the world. It’s a great listen.

Visit the Songs For Distorted Times page on Bandcamp for more information.

I was given access to a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Songs For Distorted Times

Album Artist: John Donovan Malley

Label: Noctivagant

Released: 27 Feb 2021