It seems kind of odd to be reviewing a relatively recent Steve Roach release, because knowing him he’ll probably have another three out by the time I finish writing this review. All kidding aside, this gentleman is prolific, but he’s the grandpappy of ambient music, after all, so he gets to do what he wants.
Fortunately, doing what he wants is working for him, because as I faithfully purchase each release, the quality somehow stays at his traditionally high level. I’m highlighting this particular 2014 release because of all of Roach’s albums of the last couple of years, this is the one that really floats my boat. (I should point out that another album, The Long Night, is just as new.)
It’s a question of personal taste, of course. Arizona-based Roach has worked in a variety of ambient subgenres for some time (most of which he probably invented) and naturally excels at each; some of them I prefer more than others. For instance, his heavily sequenced, more energetic albums usually do very little for me, although for some reason Spiral Meditations very much does. At the other end of spectrum is the languid, minimal and peaceful sound of albums like New Life Dreaming (a personal favourite), Low Volume Music, most of the Immersion series, and Darkest Before Dawn. Now, those releases are where it’s at for me. You can read my post listing some of his finest albums here.
The Delicate Forever is a five-track release that is mainly notable (to me) for the extremely, excruciatingly beautiful title track, in which we find Roach at his most spartan and tranquil. And I can assure you, while Roach’s leviathan status in the genre is, to be sure, partially attributable to him being there at the beginning of it all and producing a large body of work (and partly dumb luck, as all success is), when he is on, his work contains an ineffable, expansive quality that could only be the product of a mind of great spiritual fulfilment. This sound is as vast as the ether, and when he’s at his best, Roach does this as well as or better than anyone else.
“The Delicate Forever” is based simply on an undulating wave of what could be either a pad or a processed guitar (his site is not specific), accompanied over the twenty-four-minute duration only by tinkling synth sounds that resemble water dripping into an underground pool. It’s similar to the wonderful track “Perfect Dream” from New Life Dreaming.
That’s it, and that’s all it needs. It could go on for quite a while longer, and I’d be happy. (An astute commenter has pointed out that you can get a 74-minute version of this track with the CD version, titled The Delicate Beyond). Here is a true master at work; enlightenment is found in the spaces between the notes, in the little touches, in the very simplicity of the piece.
Folks, this is ambient music in its purest form. If you don’t like this, you may not have a future as a listener of this kind of music.
The other four tracks are in a style well known to Roach fans, the closest previous approximation being the fabulous Mystic Chords and Sacred Spaces. “Well Spring” is based on delicate, trancelike sequencing and drifting pads — classic Roach, while next two tracks, “Where the Mysteries Sleep” and “Perfect Sky” are very much in the Mystic Chords style, with cascading notes that might sound atonal if not softened by effects, and which sonically mirror the gentle chaos of the natural world.
And finally, “Hear After”, presumably a rumination on mortality, presents a slightly disquieting but still beautiful drone with more delicate dissonance and mysterious sounds from the great beyond, sending our souls into the next … whatever comes next.
I wouldn’t call this album a “return to form”, because in my opinion the quality of Roach’s work has been remarkably consistent, but as an avid ambient music listener, it may mean something that to me this is the finest of Roach’s recordings of the last few years. Missing it would be your loss.
Listen and buy: