Haarvöl follow in the footsteps of high concept ambient explorers like The Caretaker and Tim Hecker. Though perhaps not as ambitious as the former or as intensely droning as the latter, the Portuguese duo (+ visual artist/collaborators) have created a carefully constructed soundscape across their latest album by taking on one of the pandemic’s less frequently cited side-effects as inspiration: silence.
a quiet, indecipherable tone immediately sets the precedent with soft and slow synth flourishes, supremely unhurried and leaving a lot of empty space. It’s ominous in a way familiar to ambient records, but more intimate and human, rather than the usual evocation of cavernous natural spaces. The tone begins to steady across the following tracks, eventually settling into constant sound rather than whooshes, while almost-identifiable instruments can be heard, such as Xoán-Xil López’s scratchy cello or Martijn Comes’ guitar.
The track titles form an unbroken poem of sorts, emphasising the continuity of the piece, and the consistency of the synth tones provide a comfort as the album progresses. There is barely discernible clatter on a deliberate form of nostalgia, but electronics rumble on undeterred, all the way through to difference and the other self. which features what sounds like rushing water or static, eventually coalescing into a clear pulse before the regular tone re-establishes itself.
The only time things feel uncertain is on A wishful gesture… utopian, the closing track which even throws in some glockenspiel gongs. The tone wavers and trills early on, but only slightly, giving the impression of a slight knock, providing another human touch. As with any great ambient, concentration is key is you’re going to think of this as anything more than pleasant background noise. This is especially true with Haarvöl as the whole album is elegantly, or even shyly, understated. But when you’re trying to evoke the memory of eerie, enforced silence, maybe that’s the whole point.