Transit + Transition: Anthéne and James A. McDermid contemplate big changes in ambient split release
A double bill of short stories told through sound — concerning the type of life-altering changes we feel in our heart and gut; the changes forever attached to memory.
This limited edition split release brings together the engaging talents of two ambient-drone artists from both sides of the Atlantic. And this displacement of space and place becomes the thematic genesis of the personal journeys which inspired and echo throughout the individual sides of the record.
Residing in Toronto, Ontario, Anthéne is the solo project of Brad Deschamps — owner of ambient label Polar Seas and one half of glacial drone duo North Atlantic Drift with Mike Abercrombie. The titles of Anthéne’s releases from last year — Asymmetry, Lost Channel, Weightless and Skyglow, are indicative of the type of enveloping cloud-gazing drift which looks both inwardly and skywards. Look no further than Weightless — an album made for his newborn daughter to sleep to — for subtle melodies which soothe and soar.
While over in England, James A. McDermid creates beautiful music drenched in the ghosts of memories, feelings and place— In Little Swallows was one of my favourite releases of 2019: an emotional album about repetition and stasis; about feeling stuck through circumstance. This album is a cathartic place filled with lost voices and heavy cloud dreams, evolving granular textures and warming earworm drones. James’ music takes us to different realms where spectres swim inside inspirational symphonies.
With this split, Transit + Transition, which marks the debut release for the new Mailbox label, both artists stretch out and showcase their talents, creating a cohesive journey connected by a state of reflection and the potential for hope.
transit: the act of passing over, across, or through something.
transition: the process of change from one form, state, style or place to another.
The tracks that make up Transit were recorded by Anthéne’s Brad Deschamps in the spring and early summer of 2019, during a time when he, his wife and daughter were in the midst of a move. Some of the mixing and recording were actually done at Brad’s in-laws’ house, where they stayed for a week as their old house was listed for sale. Transit’s four pieces reflect these feelings and situations, where an anchor is constant flux.
“The idea of transit also came to mind in a more figurative way. I’ve felt things shift and priorities change with the arrival of my daughter over a year ago.”
— Brad Deschamps
During this time, Brad was on parental leave from work with a very different day-to-day life than he was used to. ‘Mourning Dove’ brings us into this new world, flying on evolving soft drones, dancing along the sweet spot of melancholy and euphoria. There’s a timeless quality. We could be up in the middle of the night, looking out at the moon through tired eyes while tending to an infant’s night feed. Or equally, asleep on the sofa in the middle of the day, exhausted by the grey hours known too well to new parents.
Time becomes a winged notion we can no longer fully trust.
A transient event is a short-lived burst of energy in a system caused by a sudden change of state. As a father myself, the birth of your first child has the power to put everything previously in flux on temporary pause for a whole new world of flux. ‘Transient’ brings me back to this place. The impermanence of that period of time: our parental bubble, both warm and delicate, formed out of love and by the necessity to protect, but with the lingering fear of failure close by in the shadows.
‘Transient’ is a shimmering, subtly evolving ride through nightscapes and dreamways, pulled together on time-shifting drones.
The texturally-rich ‘The only way’, brings to mind an otherworldly echo, or perhaps my misremembering, of the prelude to the first act from Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which bleeds into an echo of its use in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Both pieces offer a seductive hopelessness wrapped-up in a warm embrace — gloriously repetitive and hallucinatory, the layers of ‘The only way’ overlap and caress, building towards a star-lit release and sense of deep longing.
Anthéne’s side comes to an end with highlight ‘Collate’; a forever rising woozy wall of sound — part-shoegaze, part-solar eclipse, or even an event horizon— which is so womb-like in its warmth and ability to encapsulate us inside a protective bubble that it tempts us to feel safe again, away from old storms and any new storms likely to follow.
As Transit drifts into Transition, we contemplate Anthéne’s ability to drop us inside a waking dream. It’s a world of meticulously-crafted production that can’t fail to incite a response. This is emotional ambient at its best. A massage for the mind. Built on the push><pull, call and response relationship between art and listener; it elicits a reaction of our own while we are pulled along on Brad’s journey.
James A. McDermid recorded the five tracks that make up the Transition side between 2016 and 2019, during a period where he experienced more adjustment and change in his life than ever before.
“Each piece of music represents a moment in the slow journey I’ve made from the person I was then, to the person I am now.”
— James A. McDermid
James states that Transition is “a collection of diary entries that recalls the worst that life threw at me, to the searing joy of rejuvenation”. These tracks are empowered by a record of this diarist’s activities and reflections. In fact, for me, taken as a whole these tracks function as both an ambient short story and ghostly illustration of attempts to process grief in all its shapes and sizes.
Recorded in the wake of several difficult moments in James’ life — from the United Kingdom voting to part ways with the European Union, to losing two members of his immediate family only a few weeks apart — Transition begins with ‘Break the quiet that lovers know’; a haunting wash of almost-heard choral voices, amidst a glorious Basinski decay. There is an immediate sense of loss and desire to reflect on what’s come and gone before. It also functions as the perfect pivot between the two artists: we can applaud Transit + Transition for having a measured flow of a solo album, whose split nature forms its cohesion through thematic tone.
‘Restless for mistaken bliss’ — perhaps my favourite track title from an album of wonderfully emotive titles — offers us a way into the transitory void. A sepultura floods with rolling dark ambient; mixing the brutal fragility of nature with eerie urban detritus.
It’s a track that is geographic in power, taking me away to creaking piers, rain-soaked cliffs and rusting abandoned factories.
Heavily textured, its clanging, rat-a-tat-ing and array of ghosts hidden in field recordings, exist within dense, looming storm clouds and heavy blankets of drone. It’s an almost spiritual experience. But just when we fear a possibility of drowning within the mire seems close, everything falls away and a calming ensues: leaving a rejuvenated spirit alone after a storm’s passing.
‘It’s me in your echo’ showcases a grand mastery of texture and tone. Constantly in flux: metal and electricity, vocal snippets and brain synapses, glide over a flying carpet dragging shards of noise and buried electronic sunshine — a visceral experience where we exist within a mind and its memory full of echoes bouncing off one another, competing for attention.
It makes me think of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1975 mesmeric film Mirror, in its fragmentation of space and place; where memories intersect with reality and consciousness falls into dreams. Simultaneously burning and flooding; hidden and in sight.
Following-on from ‘Restless…’, the strong sense of journey on McDermid’s side continues— as listener is taken on a trip through the artist’s flux. The heavily granulated ‘Zurich, 4AM’ serves as an almost calming coda to the previous mirror of broken echoes. Perhaps, it represents an early morning awakening from a bad dream? Or is part of the process to recalibrate a displacement of space and place?
The release ends with ‘Wayward whispers’, which begins like a huge swarm of bees caught in high winds, before a heavenly drone drowns out their hum and buzz. Fragments of voices begin to pulse, while an organic beat builds alongside waves of drone and noise, before slowly sliding away to nothing more than a whisper. It’s a terrific way to end this short story; where the journey is more important than the destination.
Transition is in many ways the sounds of both the literal and metaphorical bridge between heartbreak and bittersweet nostalgia. It’s about moving from Point A to Point B, while trying to recalibrate what has come before it, and looking forward to what might come next. Despite its heavy shadows, it is never impenetrably bleak; with rays of light allowed to poke through with hopeful, fresh green shoots, to show that recovery is possible.
Transit + Transition
Rather than repeating itself, history has the ability to echo within us and around us. Particular moments swell and circulate; our past affecting our present. Our future: a composite of everything that has come before us and everything yet to find us.
Listening to Transit + Transition puts me in this reflective state, bringing to mind the Portuguese word ‘saudade’ to describe a deep emotional state of nostalgia, or a profound melancholic longing for something now absent in our life — “the love that remains” after someone or something is gone.
We remember though, that when flowing out of this nostalgic state, melancholy can eventually break; transient as both our emotions and life are. Anthéne and James A. McDermid’s music has the magic to make us embrace our past — both the happy and sad — in order to face the future with renewed optimism.
I highly recommend Transit + Transition to anyone fond of ambient, drone and experimental music. It’s a perfect album for contemplation and seeking calm within chaos. An album to celebrate the transitory nature of life.
Transit + Transition is a double bill of short stories told through sound — concerning the type of life-altering changes we feel in our heart and gut; the changes forever attached to memory.
Its reflection on the permanence of flux works on a macro level when taken as a cohesive album, but also wonderfully on the micro level — Brad and James invite us to get lost in these nine personal vignettes, offering us a window to contemplate change in our own lives.
Transit + Transition by Anthéne and James A. McDermid is released on limited edition 12" transparent vinyl, limited edition CD and digital download through Mailbox on 9 March 2020.