Album review: Marconi Union’s “Weightless (Ambient Transmissions Vol. 2)”

I admit that I’m not as into electronic music as I let on, but occasionally something comes along that I just have to investigate. The main track on this record achieved mainstream headlines last year praising its incomparable tranquility. This whole album is, to me, not just listening to high-quality, meticulously-crafted music – it’s a mood and mind modifier, an entry into a different plane, a way of making myself and the world around me alterable at my leisure. I can sense my body loosening itself, as if physically affected by some foreign substance – morphing, visiting another state, being washed clean of the dirt of doubt and dredged-up memories. This record has got me through some remarkably stressful or uncertain situations.

All technically one piece, the album is divided into six movements which each offer a different flavour of personality and mood, but all of which indubitably assist in the erasure of unpleasant feelings and the bringing of lasting peace.

Part 1 is unanimously dubbed “most relaxing track in the world” with entire justification – a lustrous watercolour of pleasant sweeps and drones interwoven with a host of synthetic noises with unusual naturality to them, that do not disturb the listener on any level. Virtually no transient sounds make an appearance, with the exception of quiet pianos and percussion that conjure imagery of a mountain range in the far East, one of ample space and distance – somehow one is both aware and unaware of what this piece has to offer. Additionally there is a single D minor chord that prevails all throughout the 8 minutes of this piece’s duration, making listening to it a perfectly timeless experience. There is an almost imperceptible slowdown in tempo towards the end, which at this point would be mirroring the mental state of the listener as one is lulled towards complete placidity.

Part 2 presents more traditional musical offerings such as a quiet distorted drumkit which provides a strong 4/4 rhythmic focus to the piece. Again, chords drone endlessly and the music pulses subtly and carefully, gentle spikes of background white noise bleeding through arhythmically – but here we are presented with what could be called the first ostinato-driven piece of the album. A blend of bright keyboard chimes in the immediate foreground penetrates the mix, swimming not so much with the tide of the piece as perhaps against it, possibly unwelcomely to anyone expecting a truly transcendent experience from every segment of this album. It conforms to the piece’s rhythm stringently, and chooses only to duck out at specific instances, otherwise continuing ceaselessly until the piece’s finish. It is this movement that is perhaps the weakest in terms of its potential for state alteration, as the listener might be too deeply focused on the repetitive melody and the reminder that this in fact a piece of music above all else to let the rest of the track perform its otherworldly duties.

Part 3 enters softly, a two-note ostinato dancing unpredictably on a building sequence of layered chords and sweeping astral sounds, which are, as in the first movement, pushed into the background to make sure they are at the very edge of perception. The repetitive pattern throughout this movement is less invasive – in fact more reassuring in its tone and its slightly less regular timing. One can easily get lost in the depths of deep space to this piece, with the slow, heartbeat-like melody providing a sense of goodwill and an almost umbilical attachment to the listener – no matter where you might drift, you will always be looked over; safe, secured, sustained.

Part 4 is a playful, mysterious, enchanting affair – a waltzing, wandering, lifelike piece – a hometown of magical elven sprites. In its lowness and the sombre nature of its minor key, it conjures deep and uncertain darkness, but the rhythmic strength of its pleasing, everpresent marimba-like melody line evoke just the right amount of security and certainty in an otherwise wild and unforgiving world. Synthetic wails instill a sense of the twisted and unexpected lurking nearby. This is a piece that is as explorative of you as it is explorable itself – it surveys you, takes mutual interest in you, welcomes you in to the warm to have a seat and talk through your troubles. A jovial, passionate piece that keeps you endeared and interested, maintaining stimulating conversation with you with its everpresent gentle squeaks and murmurs.

Part 5 begins with a slumbering minor chord, but the dour mood is soon subverted as a soft drum line surprises you with its audacious, driving swing beat, the bassline coaxing it into a bouncing 5/4 groove. An out-of-step piano line keeps one guessing, immersed, intrigued. What will you be hearing next – singular note, broken arpeggio, tidbit of a melody? Once again, synthetic chords sail effortlessly through the ears, fading out gradually to the end to give space to a pleasing guitar-like melody that one gets the impression has been here all along, serenading you without being immediately heard or perceived. A grounding, serious, endlessly patient piece that firmly tells you not to despair – that throughout and in spite of the dark of life, there is still comfort and kindness.

Part 6 is slow and seemingly irregular, not wanting to be pinned down to a specific framing of time. Percussive elements play out, evoking a spiritual, tribal sense of awakening. Familiar ground is revisited here as it seems to reprise elements present in the first movement. It welcomes you home from your travels, letting you back down to Earth gently. So gently does it, in fact, that you are stirred from your reverie seemingly all too soon. It has been 40 minutes since the first movement and yet here you are. Different? Detensed? Transformed, even? Maybe, maybe not. But has that elapsed time felt spent but necessary – fleeting but worthwhile – quickened but rewarding? Surely so.