This is the strangest thing to turn up in a while here and was kindly sent in on vinyl and described as “a bit of soundtracky electric noises for possible review.” Composer Chester Hawkins is from Washington DC and has been writing and performing for over 30 years under various guises including the wonderfully named Blue Sausage Infant. Going under his own name this is actually a soundtrack for a film directed by Tim Ashby called Pale Trees. The IMDB describes it as under production and it would appear to be set around a woman called Liv exploring the ghost of her mother’s early days in Hollywood. No doubt actually seeing the film would contextualise it but the music works pretty well in its own right so is not essential. Having said that naturally I now want to give it a watch and place sound and vision together and see how it does all gel.
Crows caw and we are taken into nature with a soundscape that resides in various frames. The main genre explored in experimental ways is ambient although there are facets of drone and even Krautrock, synth-wave as well as at latter stages even minimalist techno to be embraced. Naturally the emphasis is very much delivered in a cinematic soundtrack sense. Divided into two parts simply entitled Pale Trees Part 1 and 2 on either side of the disc it’s a chilled out place to find yourself residing in for the 43 minute duration. Keyboards waft and enthral and odd springy and bouncing pulses flow out the speakers giving everything a trippy sense of distorted reality. Odd beeps and spacey floating motifs ebb and flow and there is almost a cartoon like feel about what is being heard here, there’s also a sudden repetitive noise that sounds like a life support machine making me wonder if this is in line with something going on in the film. Musically I am reminded of artists like Astralasia, Banco De Gaia and even the KLF (Chill Out and Space mode) as well as stuff heard on the likes of Feed Your Head compilations here. No doubt though others more au fait with 70’s Berlin School Komische’ will come at this from an entirely different angle.
There are plenty of parts here to just drift off to or mong out during but the underlying sounds do give it all substance and there are definitely some interesting textures to explore. Apparently as far as the film is concerned these illustrate the psychological colours within it such as darkness, rage and vengeance but I have to admit there is little feeling of danger to be found within this, more a feeling of illusion and displacement. Side 2 sees things taking more form and you could easily place this work in line with likeminded artists from Tangerine Dream to Philip Glass and Brian Eno, the ambient psyche side of things going on also are more than a little reminiscent of Hawkwind and Ozric Tentacles so this definitely should have wide appeal to all manner of heads! Funnily enough midway through the second side there is a section I keep expecting violins to come in and suddenly have a brain spasm that makes me think I am in the midst of the classic weird out Curtain Call by The Damned. As mentioned things pick up more towards conclusion when an actual beat forms and takes us into a trance laden place; having said this it’s still pretty much residing in the chill out room rather than the main arena.
Natural Causes despite a general minimalist nature and approach really proved an absorbing listen and although unexpected and maybe not an obvious thing to send out to us I’m certainly glad that Hawkins did as I have really enjoyed this. Naturally it would be a bit of a waste with this if it was left for you to just read about it so it’s great that you can explore the complete work yourself via the link below. Take a chill pill and be prepared to wander in the midst of pale trees.
(7.5/10 Pete Woods)