You’re in a mall, and early Christmas music ramps up your anxiety about the upcoming season. You grab a bite at your favorite café and see upsetting news pouring out of the television. Even your favorite jazz artist sounds less healing, kicking around more musical ideas than you’ve got room for in your mind, which would flash a “no vacancy” sign if it could. Even if you don’t notice it, these noises find a way into your consciousness, and even the minutest of details are resonating somewhere in the back of that packed head of yours.
Take electronic and ambient music as your tools to combat the overcrowding of your senses. There isn’t much going on sonically, but that’s what the busy mind might need. The smooth futurism of ‘Pattern Haze’ is the epitome of intention, giving the ears a calming sense of place amongst all the people waiting to hear back from you on Gmail. The seven tracks on L’Orange L’Orange are anything but human sounding. They take their cues from places where the dramatic mind can’t go. Need to take the edge off at the end of your day? Gregg Kowalsky is a fine replacement for a tumbler of bourbon.
The buzzing opener ‘L’Ambience L’Orange’ gives the record a false start. Its string arrangements approach a cinematic moment of clarity before the track abruptly cuts off. L’Orange L’Orange is speaking to itself here: This is not a record that moves toward some universal truth. It’s one that plants its roots, and invites you to imitate its calmness.
Side A centerpiece ‘Tuned to Monochrome’ is the event horizon of L’Orange L’Orange, opening with arpeggios that are equalized into a robotic clump. Instead of spiraling into infinity, Kowalsky exchanges the tones of these notes between xylophone, glockenspiel, and wind chimes - none of which last longer than a few arrhythmic bars before shapeshifting again. Over eight minutes go by, but they’re all encased in the open world environment that Kowalsky’s drones create. Time elapsed is of little consequence.
’Tonal Bath for Bubbles’ and ‘Pattern Haze’ pass by precisely how their titles would suggest, but ‘Ritual Del Croix’ is heralded by far away drums that sound like a distant warzone; as if reality is trying to reenter the mind when you’re halfway between sleep and waking life. Sustaining guitars and chorus pianos enter to fight the pangs of reality, and the drums become merely an echo of the stress that awaits you at the end of your dreams.
’Blind Contour Drawing For Piano’ contains L’Orange L’Orange’s only discernable melodies. However, the acoustic piano sounds dance around a melody more than actually play one. Yet more drones surround the melodic center, and the album suddenly ends before the mind is able to piece together what makes Kowalsky’s music stand out amongst his peers. There’s a general Enoism to the songs on L’Orange L’Orange, and as such it’s harder to distinguish Kowalsky’s sound than it is to compare it to others.
With few shared themes on the record, it’s not an easy task describing what the takeaway is considering that it’s been eight years since his last record, Tape Chains. However, if the story simply goes that Kowalsky finally had time to cut another record, so be it. In any case, it’s hardly a matter of setting or timeline that makes L’Orange L’Orange stand out as one of the year’s finer noise projects. It’s a respite not only from the loudness of everyday life but from the noisy adverts we not only hear in supermarket queues, but also have to see written on the sides of buses and billboards as far as the city stretches. L’Orange L’Orange doesn’t exist in one place or detail specific events, which is to say it’s a fine contrast to the 21st century’s culture of volume. It simply is, and that gives it grace.