Ian Bouras – Absence (live looping)

Ian Bouras – Absence (live looping)

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Primarily associated with ambient or dub music in his solo career, Ian Bouras’ wide ranging skills set him apart in an era of diminished expectations. Bouras’ latest solo effort, Absence (live looping), certainly embraces an ambient sound with its fixation on surrounding Bouras’ guitar with electronic looping or delay effects. His use of this technology isn’t just shallow gimmickry; instead, it is noticeable, from the first, the added depth and color he brings to his compositions thanks to the tasteful use of those aforementioned technologies. His tenure playing with and writing in bands like New York City’s AñaVañA has honed his melodic strengths to a glittering edge and those talents rise to the fore at numerous points throughout this release, but there are other moments where Bouras is clearly aiming to craft compelling soundscapes that suggest cinematic imagery to listeners while still connecting with them emotionally.

His gifts for melody get an early workout on Absence. We aren’t likely used to, as listeners, how the effects Bouras applies to his guitar work alters our experience of melody, but Bouras clearly relishes the added potential for atmospherics and elongating typical structures. There is definitely a ghostly feel pervading the song landscape of the opening trio of tracks, but Bouras sketches our the melodies early on and elaborates on them throughout the course of each track. “While You Were Gone” and “Thoughts of Oblivion” offer up relatively traditional melodies, but there’s a gradual shift underway by the second cut into something a little more obtuse and the third song “The Cruelty of Dreams” marks a deliberate break with classical melodic approaches and gives us something increasingly idiosyncratic. By the time we reach the fourth song, “Thoughts of You”, Bouras has successfully grafted his concern with melody onto a genuinely evocative ambient uses of his guitar and effects. Unlike less stylish counterparts, the story with Bouras isn’t ever just the sound – it’s what he does with it and his resolute refusal to become self indulgent.

“Conversations with Strangers” is, arguably, the album’s most orchestrated number. There’s a clear sense of dynamics driving this performance and it does an exceptional job of merging the various strands of the album into one attention-grabbing synthesis. You can’t really call it entertaining, in a conventional sense. There’s a palpable intensity surrounding songs like this and the later tracks “Rejuvenation” and “Fear of Sleep”. Despite the hopeful implication of the former’s title, it’s a glowering instrumental piece that has a slightly unsettling quality. There’s a tighter focus accompanying the same intensity on the latter cut, “Fear of Sleep”, and it rates as one of the album’s strongest moments thanks to its claustrophobic feel. “Touch the Heart (Ocean Blue)” does an understated job of invoking the aquatic themes implied by its title and, as well, ranks as one of the album’s better cuts. Absence (live looping) has clear engagement and urgency despite the languid feel and pace and proves, yet again, why Bouras is one of the more respected musicians working in the New York City area.

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Craig Bowles