Album Review: Elevated by Bob Ohrum

Cover for Elevated by Bob OhrumGlancing over the notes I made while listening to this album for the second time, I felt disoriented. The materials used by Bob Ohrum on his third full-length release are minimal; my notes hardly amount to anything. I glanced at them and wondered: is that it? The elements Bob uses on each track can be described in just a few words, but the impact of this music can barely be captured with words. Call it alchemy…

Written and recorded in 2007 and released on Relaxed Machinery in June 2010, Elevated is a hypnotic collection of drones and minimal but evocative textures. It’s created mostly with processed electric bass, occasional synths and field recordings – and a ton of heart.

As Bob has written, this album is a tribute to his late father. The opening track, Song For You (I’ll Never Forget) was spontaneously recorded on the day that the body’s ashes were scattered. A metallic, slightly hollow drone sets the mood for the entire album, and a joyous riot of birdsong is suddenly pushed into the background (to the edge of consciousness) by a progression of dark, shimmering bass chords, with occasional bits of plaintive melody, and a buzzing drone.

Bob Ohrum – Song For You (I’ll Never Forget) by Relaxed Machinery

Such simple materials – shaped by this powerful emotional motive – are used to stunning effect on each track. While They Slept is all drones, a floating buzz-and-hum, with an unsettling metallic high pitch cutting through. Everytime I Close My Eyes features a field recording of a passing train and a dreamlike slow bass melody, resting on a Pink Floyd-like atmosphere. As the piece winds down, a lone female voice (Bob’s wife Mary Grace) sings one long note and a slow trill. Close your eyes, and time ends.

The 14-minute title track features the strongest, most mesmerizing drones of the album. The birds re-emerge towards the end, and the piece segues into Diwedd (Welsh for “ending”), which features a more soothing drone and a wonderful long-echoing, bowed-texture note. All of this, to my ears, suggests a long-delayed sunrise – an acceptance of what’s been lost. Ending, but also renewal.

Bob Ohrum – Diwedd by Relaxed Machinery

The album closes with The Wasteland, which begins with nearly three minutes of silence and breaks into a pastiche of industrial sounds and humming drones – all bleak and desolate. A pulsing note throbs in at the last minute. Acceptance is a long-term process – two steps forward, one step back – but the living always continue.

In every track, Bob shapes a few well-chosen elements into a riveting sound-and-heart meditation. There’s nowhere to go; this is a musical baring of the heart. Minimalism infused with emotional power.

These few words can’t begin to do justice to the experience. You have to hear it – in your gut.

Elevated can be downloaded from CD Baby.

Cover for Elevated CD by Bob Ohrum

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