Album Review: sleepMODE by Relaxed Machinery

Cover for sleepMODE by Relaxed MachineryThe Relaxed Machinery label celebrates its first anniversary with its 9th release: sleepMODE, a compilation featuring all 13 of the label’s artists.

As can be discerned from the track titles, some of the artists used the Philip K. Dick-inspired question “When machines sleep, what do they dream of?” as a starting point. Much of the music is fairly minimal, some starkly so, and many pieces have an industrial component. But sleepMODE has – and needs – no overarching theme or concept.

Any concerns with track length were ruled out fom the get-go, giving the musicians free rein to take all the time needed to set down their journeys. The result is a 128-minute ambient-electronic feast, averaging nearly 10 minutes per track. All but one are unique to this release.

Wallpaper 1 of 3 for sleepMODE by Relaxed Machinery

It begins with arguably the two best-known artists on the rM roster. With Slow Rust, Max Corbacho recalls his luminous Arc Lucis album. Crystalline, sparkling, modular-like sequences rise and fall over sublime chilled-organ drifting chords, in a vast mystic and sonic cathedral of inner (and/or external) space.

Steve Brand follows with Forgotten Feast, setting a ritual space for celestial strings, inviting our long-forgotten ancestors to feast – and breathe – with us. Steve needs only a few synth elements to invoke a place of mystery, giving us a glimpse into ancient wonders.

Other atmospheric pieces include Benjamin Dauer‘s diaphanous Neon Shroud, and AN by Ishq, with its serene pad underlying sweeping metallic tones and a sparse, exploratory electric piano. Chris Russell, with Mechanical Slumber, suggests the drama of his collaboration album The Approaching Armada, with two chords sweeping us into the dreamworld.

Wallpaper 2 of 3 for sleepMODE by Relaxed Machinery

sleepMODE has something for everyone. Guitarists are well-represented, with the shimmering lines of Beta Cloud‘s tremulous, aqueous What Dreams May Come, and Going Under by I’ve Lost, with its muted, cascading loops melting away like wilderness voices. Lila’s Dance from Beed and Fascia, with its challenging, glitchy datastream, possibly features a mangled, distorted guitar.

Strongly-industrial themes are found on REMcycle (åpne sinn), with its sounds of regeneration flashing by; and the album’s most avant-garde piece, Dream States Fourtet (Leonardo Rosado), featuring light-industrial drones, and mutated reeds which at times nearly resemble sirens.

Bob Ohrum contributes Deepest Blue, a piece of restrained melancholy which dwells quietly, for a time, in the lower frequencies, with a familiar industrial atmosphere and a simple, plaintive synth line. But the mask of restraint slips, as desperate interjections of protest and grief – long held back – can no longer be denied.

John Koch-Northrup – A Dream of Awakening – from sleepMODE by Relaxed Machinery

Parallel Truths by Nettless features a cello and double-bass dialogue over celestial synth strings and a few orchestral flourishes. Label owner John Koch-Northrup very aptly closes the proceedings with A Dream of Awakening, an echoing, reflective piano miniature which neatly avoids falling into “New Age” sentimentalism.

An outstanding collection, sleepMODE caps a fine first year for this new label and heralds a greatly-promising future. Fans of ambient/electronic music would all do well to keep Relaxed Machinery on their musical radar.

Wallpaper 3 of 3 for sleepMODE by Relaxed Machinery

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