Certainly dark and certainly ambient, the genre tags associated with A.R.C. Soundtracks new release (on the increasingly eclectic and fascinating Gizeh Records) do not lie. Kicking off with a pleasingly menacing opening motif, DERELICTION//MIRROR has all the key elements of dark ambient music locked down and although the opening title track quickly becomes quite B-list-horror-esque and a little hammy, it is enough of a statement of intent to keep you listening.
Unfortunately, second track ‘FIELD///TRESPASS’ is quite bland – yes, that can be validly stated about ambient music – and things get worse with track three, ‘RUINS//RITUAL’. The spoken word vocal delivery stands out massively like a sore thumb over the soft music, and completely shatters the atmosphere. The meaning of the words are unclear, but come across not as high-concept but instead as pretentious and unnecessary. As the music begins to agitate and discord, things come together a little more as a disquieting whole, but following track ‘INTERIOR//STRATA’ brings things right back down again, the spoken words this time coming from an emotionless and stilted female voice. The music here is massaging and ethereal, and showcases the genuine beauty of good ambient abstractions; you just can’t help but wish the voice would shut up.
A criticism often levelled at wholly atmospheric, soundscape-focussed music is that it’s very easy to create. This in itself is a lazy critique and a horrible slight at the wonders of minimalism, but unfortunately it’s a point that may well be valid in the music of A.R.C. Soundtracks. The synth sounds on display at various points on this album are basic and almost stock sounds, layered with the expected piles of reverb. Difficulty of production should not be a measure of greatness in itself, but when the typical sounds are not particularly masked, this can be a distraction, despite the comparatively inventive use of lap steel guitar and piano.
That said, highlights come in the form of the evocatively barren, whirring and disturbed ‘DUST//SURVEILLANCE’ and ‘TERRAIN//VAGUE’, the latter of which would make an excellent soundtrack for a particularly desolate and lonely film or video game. Background rhythmic pointers act as anchors and reminders of reality, as you are gently swept away into the soundscapes.
By the time your long, languid journey brings you to track eight, memories of the irritating voices from earlier have all but dissipated, replaced by encompassing drones and creepy effects. Therefore it is all the more frustrating when the same awkward spoken lyrics return during ‘HYBRID//AGENCY’. However, ‘IMPERIAL//NOSTALGIA’ is, thankfully, a well crafted and haunting ending which sums up what this album is good at. The spoken moments are by far the worst on DERELICTION//MIRROR, the purely (and appropriately, given the artist name) ‘soundtrack’ moments infinitely superior. It’s as if this album cannot decide whether it wants to be background or foreground music, and it’s unwillingness to settle on one or the other is the ultimate frustration.