Ambient music is a tricky field for reviewers. As genre forefather Brian Eno once said, ‘it must be as ignorable as it is interesting’, and as such, focussing in on the specific strengths and weaknesses of a release such as Aaron Holm’s latest The Boy can be challenging. However, this challenge can be flipped around into an advantage; music like this forces listeners to all but abandon any searches for technicality or hooks within it, and only high level emotional responses can be accessed. In some ways then, studying an ambient album could be something of a shortcut to the most primal, human responses to music and perhaps a necessary refreshing of the system. Aaron Holm has a good grasp on this fact.
From the very outset, there are moments when The Boy is quite a dark release, its expansive soundscapes hanging like a thin mist in a darkened underpass. However, this darkness is not entirely unsettling and is instead somewhat welcoming and dreamlike. ‘Water’ features some very slight, heavily veiled hints towards post-rock, but with a deep and satisfying rumble underpinning it.
‘Little One’ has a little more motion, it’s steady throb and female vocal making proceedings feel a little more immediately present. This could have been the most directly interesting track here, but sadly it somewhat outstays its welcome and doesn’t capitalise on its unique momentum.
Later though, ‘Wards Island’ offers much more hopefulness than any other track, imbued with a subtle yearning towards some light amongst the gloom and giving off a pleasant, glowing warmth to sit at the centre of the album. In contrast, ‘Detached’ lives up to its name with a shimmering, metallic quality seeming to hide away what might be a more organic and friendly core in the background.
Though both of these tracks offer strong and immersive atmospheres, the true standout track here is ‘Broken Kid’. Based around a stop/start spoken word motif by a girl repeatedly suggesting metaphorical muses to a silent author, this track truly gives meaning to the word ‘soundscape’. The light wash of synthetic audio backdrop hangs perfectly around every staggered word and makes very little actual content deeply immersive, yet never invasive – ambient music’s manifesto honed to a tee.
As a whole, The Boy is quite aurally homogenous in a single sitting, but within the genre in which Aaron Holm is working, this does not necessarily mean bad. As background music, or as a soundtrack to sitting silently in a darkened room; something to get lost in, or to lose beneath the other workings of your mind, Holm has created an album which, despite breaking no real new ground, is satisfying for both the ears and the soul.