Bob Ohrum’s albums combine urban field recordings with drones, bass and keyboards in a highly personal, alchemical fusion. (I’ve reviewed Bob’s albums Elevated and Subliminal Listening.) Bob’s latest release (Relaxed Machinery 0020) is All Around Me.
As he always does, Bob carefully weaves each piece from a few simple, minimal elements. There’s nowhere to go – you’re already there; it’s a sonic portrait of a location. As with Elevated, there is a strong melancholy element here, at least to my ears – but Bob’s music is quite like a mirror: your mood will greatly influence what you hear. The music can be alternately serene and depressing.
Last Breath Before opens the album with a downpour. As usual, we know we’re in the city, with Bob’s characteristic urban, industrial-humming atmospherics sketching our location. (I almost said “echo-locating”, which is how bats navigate – it would be apropos since this is a nocturnal cityscape.) A key element here is a single high note which echoes away over two dozen times. A set of three-note piano motives in the bass move the piece to an unexpected (but appropriate, given the title) cut-off.
For Dan (Excerpt), from a recent EP of the same name, is a memorial for Bob’s brother Dan, who passed on in 2008. A melancholy line sings over a hollow-metal low chord and a pitch-bending buzz. This grows to a searing intensity before the piece fades away.
Overpass Symphony #2 (All Around Me), the album’s longest piece at 17 minutes, is also saturated with water, streaming by over a quiet hum, which slowly blossoms into a harmonium-like chord. Scudding effects skid by on alternate sides.
The Mess (You Left) has the strongest industrial feel on the album, with a buzzing, crackling, rotary-saw drone. A swelling bass drone that takes over late in the piece is one of my favorite elements on the album. A chord progression on bass guitar closes it out.
My favorite piece on the album (and one of my favorites from Bob overall) is the closer. Beauty in the Aftermath begins with birds and chiming, and a high hollow tremolo, before a wonderful power bass drone kicks in. This isn’t constant, it comes and goes, which is hugely effective here. It’s only one note, and that’s plenty. A bass guitar melody carves out a tranquil space. The mood here is the polar opposite of the rest of the album: it’s the morning after a big rain, and the sun and birds are out. The power drone and bass playing are perhaps Bob’s strongest tools. I would love to hear a whole album from him of just drones and basses.
As always with Bob’s music, in the dead of night it’s the city that’s real; we are the shadows. The city’s not permanent, but it will be here for quite some time. We, on the other hand, are just passing by.
If you like your atmospherics urban and minimal with an industrial touch, you should definitely check out this album.