Slow Dancing Society “The Torchlight Parade Vol. II” Reviewed at Textura

“Mere months after Drew Sullivan (aka Slow Dancing Society) issued The Torchlight Parade‘s first volume, the second appears to complete the project in exemplary manner. Certainly each holds up magnificently as a stand-alone illustration of contemporary ambient sound design, but experiencing them together makes the strongest possible impression. Adding to the project’s allure is a double-vinyl presentation that sees lime green and silver discs housed within a beautiful gatefold sleeve. Twelve years on from the release of his auspicious debut, The Sound of Lights When Dim, Sullivan has brought his creative skills and artistic sensibilities to exceptionally high levels on this latest collection. As stated in the review of the first volume, the twenty-seven-track opus provides an encompassing portrait of this distinguished ambient-electronic artist.

The second volume doesn’t simply extend the project with variations on the first’s tracks. Instead, while there’s overlap between the parts in terms of sound design and general concept, there’s a critical difference between them: the sense of unease and tension pervading the inaugural set is countered by resolution and calm in the second. As the project’s denouement, it’s as critical a part of the work as the first half, the two combining to create a powerful sense of completeness. Like its predecessor, the second volume references in its track titles site-specific details associated with Sullivan’s home town of Spokane, Washington, a move that amplifies the project’s personal resonance.

Compared to the first part, the pieces on the second volume are a tad quieter, subdued even, which also lends them a rather furtive, clandestine quality. Listening to Sullivan’s nocturnal tapestries, one visualizes an insomniac in a pitch-black apartment at 3 A.M. watching lights flickering across the walls and ceiling or perhaps someone drifting through the city in the middle of the night, with street lamps and neon signs bathing everything in eerie, fluorescent light. While a certain state of restfulness is intimated, the material isn’t without rhythmic urgency; gentle pulsations animate many of the twelve settings, with sequencer-like patterns the thread connecting the elements within a given arrangement.

As with the first volume, piano (acoustic and electric), bass, guitar, and synthesizers are sound sources, though muted trumpet surfaces a number of times to enhance the slow burn. Sullivan lets each setting bleed into the next, a move that not only strengthens the feeling of momentum but deepens the entrancement by not breaking the spell. Such an approach gives the recording the character of a tour through a slumbering city, with various locales ostensibly transformed into snapshots when viewed from the inside of a car as it undertakes its nocturnal ride.

“Garland” is a particularly effective example of the album’s mood and style, even though any one of its pieces could be cited as representative. In this case, acoustic guitar strums punctuate a lumbering, downtempo groove as rich swathes of electric guitar and keyboard textures flesh out the atmospheric display for four wholly immersive minutes. Perhaps even more powerful is the remarkable “Marycliff,” which rises to a haunting level when a lovely series of electric guitar phrases emerge alongside granular washes and willowy keyboard figures.

Throughout the album, there’s energy, but of the subdued kind, the impression established of a city still pulsing with energy but regenerating itself in preparation for the intense daylight activity to come. If there’s ever been a more convincing evocation in musical form of a middle-of-the-night city setting than The Torchlight Parade, I’ve yet to hear it.”

Textura

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