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Fairfax’s VHF Records has been around since the early ’90s, releasing the kind of fringey experimental stuff in which Aethenor — a project of Sunn O)))‘s Stephen O’Malley — fits comfortably. Despite the lineage, doom or drone metal this is not; instead, Aethenor’s style is an improvised ambient music that paints vivid imagery through amorphous sound.
The visual aspect of Aethenor’s music is certainly helped on by evocative album titles. Their first album (also on VHF) was called Deep In Ocean Sunk the Lamp of Light, a title matched by the submerged, claustrophic nature of the music. This year’s Betimes Black Cloudmasses, on the other hand, starts off with an appropriately airy feel, with a solid bass pulse underlying lazily drifting electronics. Things naturally get a bit more oppressive as the song and the album progress — you’d have to be surprised if they didn’t, given the members of the band (O’Malley, Daniel O’Sullivan of noisy droners Guapo, and Vincent de Roguin of dark Swiss post-rockers Shora) — but the overall sound still manages to evoke mental scenery akin to summer thunderstorm-filled skies.
Perhaps that’s just the way titles (and album art) works when it comes to ambient music, as the only concrete visual cues in a style of music devoid not only of words but also largely of recognizable melody. But regardless of the mechanism, VHF and Aethenor have put out one of the more mysteriously compelling records I’ve heard so far this year. Probably not stuff you want to be blasting out of your car stereo, but Betimes Black Cloudmasses is definitely some sweet late-night headphone music.