Ayan Das – Early Stories (2017, Stereoscenic Records)

There is nothing more unique than the sound of the guitar. This stringed instrument is piano-like in its tones, yet it never ceases to provide a realm of sonic opportunities for composers. Classical guitarists accentuate the counterpoints and arpeggios of baroque music, while jazz guitarists help to vamp smooth rhythms in ensembles. Blues and slide guitarists can coax a wailing, sorrowful voice from the instruments, while electric guitarists can shred riffs as loud as eleven (or djent as low as the tuning can go). In all these different musical realms, the guitar is seemingly transformed from a simple stringed instrument into something otherworldly.

But out of all these styles, ambient guitar is perhaps the most esoteric and playful. Bands like This Will Destroy You and Explosions in the Sky have perfected the sounds of slowly interplaying melodic lines and heavy reverberation. Kyle Bobby Dunn is known for a minimalist sound utilizing volume swells, loopers, and heavy reverb. Lowercase Noises takes the same approach with a massive pedalboard and turns the six-strings into gloriously cinematic works. Of course, no discussion of ambient guitar would be complete without the droning layers of sound Stars of the Lid have been able to coax album after album (of which a new album is 10 long years overdue).

Ayan Das is an ambient guitarist and post-rock musician from Calcutta, India, and is perhaps one of the best the lovely country has produced yet. Over the past five years, Das has been posting a steady stream of “doodles” to his Soundcloud account, and each one is cinematic and emotional in its nature. Only a few short days ago was it announced that Stereoscenic Records, the ambient label run by Andrew J Klimek of Ambient Sleeping Pill fame, was releasing an EP of these selected doodles. While the label is known for releasing some of the finest drone and ambient soundscapes available, “Early Stories” is their first post-rock release. Indeed, the tracks on this EP are more melodic and active than most of Stereoscenic’s output (mostly due to the fact that the music is made almost entirely with a guitar). Yet when comparing the former works of the label to this new release, it seems that the soothing mood of Das’s music was always meant to fit at home on Klimek’s label.

“Stranger in Their Paths” is a gloriously melancholic composition that feels like the rising sun on an early Sunday morning. Airy drones and delicate plucks float above the warm bass, invoking the very best timbres of Cocteau Twins and other alternative/shoegaze bands of the early 90s. “Back to Where We Started” is one of Das’s earliest songs, as he describes it being made with “a cheap, rusty old guitar I borrowed from a good friend.” Nevertheless, the character of the rusty guitar adds to the fragile beauty of the ambient piece, as layers of swells build on top of a simple drum beat and cymbal washes. Although the music on the EP is fairly melodic, “The World as We Knew” is one of the more static and droning pieces of the EP, as oceans of guitars sweep over slightly rhythmic piano melodies and faint birdcalls.

Both “Music for a Lone Spacegirl” and “Movement” are not only heartbreakingly beautiful in their melodies, but the cathartic climaxes are sure to make anyone cry. Also noteworthy is the bowed ukelele of the latter piece (yes, bowed ukelele…you didn’t think that existed either, did you?), as its heart-wrenching tones sound as good as any Thomas Newman soundtrack. “Floral Avalanche” is reminiscent of the reversed piano and orchestral arrangements from any Sigur Ros album, yet the atmosphere feels darkly cinematic than even the band’s best work. Closer “Remembrance” features a musician by the name of Zan; Das’s droning soundscapes and strings here nicely compliment the emotions of Zan’s acoustic guitar playing.

In general, “Early Stories” is a fantastic debut EP from this ambient musician. The guitar tones throughout are smooth, and no sound is out of place with the moods Das is going for. It’s a relaxing and pleasurable listen throughout and fits perfectly for relaxing on hot and stormy summer days, or for your sleeping playlist at night. The only real shocker of the entire EP is how Das has been producing such beautiful music for the past half-decade, yet he’s only NOW getting a label release! On the one hand, it’s an astounding outrage, but on the other, the wait has been well worth it. Do yourself a well-deserved favor this Saturday afternoon and tune into these relaxing soundscapes. You’ve earned it.

Title: Early Stories

Artist: Ayan Das

Genre: Ambient/post-rock

Available to stream/buy at https://stereoscenic.bandcamp.com/album/early-stories!

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