Before we can talk about dark ambient music, we must talk about the 1970s. While most might think of disco, Queen, Bowie, or Kraftwerk, perhaps the decade’s most influential genre was punk music. Think of The Clash or any band preferring a do-it-yourself approach, and you’ll see where modern indie music began. But between 1977 and 1978, some strange things happened. David Lynch released his 1977 surrealist film, Eraserhead, which contained a dark and experimental soundtrack. Likewise, Throbbing Gristle released a series of noisy, intense albums that would coin the industrial genre. Case in point: D.o.A: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle was released the same year as Eno’s Music for Airports. Therefore, it seems that punk is as responsible for dark ambient’s beginnings as indie music. If you don’t believe me, dark ambient pioneer Lustmord started in the industrial scene before turning to hellish music.
But is dark ambient music solely for horror films? Is it solely the intent of such artists to scare us? Most would say yes, but it’s more nuanced than this. Most may think that horror films are merely excessive gorefests and jump scares for shock value. But before The Exorcist, most horror films were creepy and foreboding through their mood and atmosphere. Even The Shining builds an unsettling atmosphere through music and cinematography, with only one of its 144 minutes relying on gory shots. In the same way, dark ambient has moments of shock value and ominous atmosphere. It simply depends on who you’re listening to. On the 2016 album from Michigan-based producer Reflections from Nowhere, Not Here or Anywhere, both of these moments are presented. For the most part, however, the album is more of a journey into winter solitude than a shocking array of horror soundscapes.
The journey into madness begins with melancholic strings and massive drums on the album’s title track. While the drums are loud as echoing prison doors, the pads are reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti’s work on Lynch’s films. “A Blur of Depression” contains similar percussion and sampled strings, while ending on sinister discordant drones. On “Mystery Theme,” the creepy mood is accentuated by its piano melody and disturbing sounds throughout. “Cold” weaves a dissonant horn arrangement with trip-hop beats that reverberate in the cavernous space, while ending with spine-tingling vocal textures. Afterward, the harsh industrial beat on “Dark Dayz ov Winter” is contrasted by icy cinematic pads, although the unsettling groans of voices and metal may shock listeners in the last minute. “Concrete Reprise” is a short rhythmic interlude of throbbing machinery that simultaneously works well as a film cue.
Halfway through, “Gloom” returns to the title track’s strings and drums, with some glacial textures in the middle that complement the dark tone. Explosions punctuate the haunting piano and pads on “Nocturnal,” while simple melodies and ominous drones play throughout “Tragedy Theme.” “Land of Inopportunity” is an interesting departure from the rest of the album, as synthesized 80s pads gloom over a swung beat and bass guitar. Despite the addition of another ominous vocal texture, this is the cleanest and most listenable track on the album. Perhaps the title is a twist on America being the land of opportunity, especially considering the tone after Trump’s election win? The album’s finale, “Dusk,” plays one last dirge with synthesized pads, plucked strings, and simple percussion. By this point, the industrial tone of the album has calmed down and dissipated, leaving listeners with an unsettling and foreboding atmosphere.
Reflections From Nowhere’s “Not Here or Anywhere” is not an easy listen. It’s not an album you can easily sit with or play before going to sleep. At times, the music is Lynchian with surreal and emotional melodies, while other moments are downright depressing. The sounds throughout are oozed in woe and dread, and it’s never pleasurable. It’s an album that may disturb listeners, and those who enjoy the experience might be seen as clinically insane. But dark ambient music was never made to be an enjoyable experience. It was always made to unsettle the listener. Some may look at this album as being a horror soundtrack, while others see it as a meditation on winter depression. Perhaps a few people will see this as a reflection of living in a Trump-led America. Regardless how you view it, the album succeeds at being a dark, minimalistic journey on all levels. Furthermore, as I write and listen to this on a cloudy day, it works as a perfect soundtrack. Listen to this with the lights on.
Title: Not Here or Anywhere
Artist: Reflections From Nowhere
Genre: Dark ambient/modern classical/industrial
Available to download at https://reflectionsfromnowhere.bandcamp.com/album/not-here-or-anywhere!