Album Review: Jefre Cantu-Ledesma - On The Echoing Green
Jefre Cantu-Ledesma has been releasing ambient music consistently for a decade now, as a founding member of the San Francisco based ambient tape label Roots Strata, as well as beyond that on other labels and in collaboration with all sorts of other experiemental artists. It’s only in the last few years that his name has started to become more recognised outside of those circles, as the pendulum of genre popularity has started to swing back in the direction of ambient. But, having already done so much in that realm, On The Echoing Green squeezes out of the ambient category by its varied instrumentation and recording styles. Just when the world had caught up to Jefre, he’s off somewhere else.
That’s not to say that On The Echoing Green is a complete makeover for Cantu-Ledesma’s sound at all; the roots of this album are still firmly held in his previous work. But this is the first time you might actually categorise one of his albums as shoegaze, or even soft rock – that’s if you really want to try and pigeonhole it, instead of sit back and become awash in the melange of interesting ideas that are here. This is an album that takes you through the natural and gradual movements of a long, sweltering summer day in a secluded green place that could be anywhere in or out of existence.
Cantu-Ledesma has always been obsessed with nature; from the beginning he was titling his releases things like Constellations Of Spring or The Garden Of Forking Paths - his last album was titled In Summer. Looking down the track list of On The Echoing Green (yet another verdant title), we can see many of the hallmarks of this inspiration from the universe. The album starts gently, ‘In A Copse’, where perhaps you’ve just been woken from a slight slumber, a half-read book open on your chest. You get up and walk through the intermittent rays of sun permeating the tree branches, out of the copse and straight into the glorious sunshine. ‘A Song Of Summer’ greets you there, scorching and bright, and for a moment you feel lightheaded and carefree. Although Cantu-Ledesma has written many sunshine odes before, ‘A Song Of Summer’ is a whole other beast. Not in any way attempting to be “The Song Of The Summer,” ‘A Song Of Summer’ seems to have been drawn out of the ether, like if you could take a sample of the humid air and a summer breeze, and leave it to cook under an uninterrupted summer sun, then turn that into sound. Long time fans of Cantu-Ledesma might be perturbed by hearing the very slight drums that are used in this – not ambient at all – and may then become even more concerned when there are hints of a female vocal, before Jefre starts ripping a badass guitar solo on top of the washed-out distorted guitars that drive the song. This heady combination gives you that heavy feeling of being out in the sun all day, probably having had a bit too much to drink or smoke, and just letting yourself sink into the world around you.
The rest of the album follows a similar palette to those set out in these opening tracks. That use of percussion isn’t a one-time thing; they’re consistent throughout the album. The overall result often feels akin to the Melody As Truth label releases by Suzanne Kraft and Jonny Nash – but with a little more heat. ‘Tenderness’ uses the drums unabashedly, kicking off the song with a simplistic tom and hi-hat that remains constant throughout, and that female vocal that was suggested on ‘A Song Of Summer’ is clear as day here – although the words are unintelligible. The words are not the point though, the goal is still to move the listener through pure sound, and ‘Tenderness’ does that perfectly, suggesting intimate moments between a couple, pressing ice cubes to each other’s bare flesh and feeling both the coldness and closeness radiating out through your neural network. When the simplistic percussion pops and echoes so delicately under the spangling guitars and whistling synths of ‘The Faun’ you will surely be transported to the mystical place where just such a creature might sneak up on you – or it could just be a sunstroke-induced hallucination.
Long-time fans looking for more of the sound-clashing experimentation that Cantu-Ledesma has been known for might be sated by ‘Vulgar Latin’, which features reverbed and washed out pianos overlayed with scratchy field-recordings. It’s an outlier on the album when looked at on those terms, but in the flow of On The Echoing Green it serves as an interesting diversion, leading us into the evening part of the album, where things have cooled down a little. ‘Dancers At The Spring’ is the most unabashedly chilled out song here, with a bass thump so light as to not be there, underscoring softly clicking percussion and more reverbed guitar, which ripples out across the pink-hewed spring, where we’ve stopped to rest. Finally ‘Door To Night’ takes us back into his more ambient styles, a field recording that sounds more like we’re digging down into a vole’s nest than a passage to a new magical location – but with Cantu-Ledesma we could be going anywhere.
On The Echoing Green is an experiential album, but not in the way of something like The Wall. This is an album that seduces you to come and spend some time with it; sit in the shade with it, stroll in the hot summer sun with it, take a dip in the lake with it – and you can do all that by just sitting down and closing your eyes with it on. But, if it doesn’t take your fancy, and you should turn the other cheek, this album will still be there, relaxed and care free, not giving it a second thought – just enjoying the summer sun.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 19th June 2017.