In the cluttered landscape of ambient music, Huerco S. catches your eye


Ambient music is everywhere in 2022, making it difficult for a single artist to stand out. There are so many recorded sounds that fall under this broad umbrella – the mood is atmospheric, usually instrumental. It often works in the background, with moods ranging from warm and calming to sinister and unsettling. And these styles are conducive to home recording environments where all you need is a computer and software to get started. On top of that, the aesthetic and presentation of ambient music, where cryptic pseudonyms and scanty personal details are the norm, tends to make creators invisible. Add it all up, and it’s hard for a producer to break through and make a name for himself.

Who all made 2016 For those of you who have never (and also those who have), Brian Leeds’ second album under his alias Huerco S., such an unlikely proposition. Loaded with mellow drones, a dash of dissonance, and slyly engaging melodies, For those of you was gentle and contemplative but also emotionally disarming. It quickly became something that’s become increasingly rare in this crowded field: the ambient version you had to hear, even if you don’t normally listen to electronic music. Following such a landmark is daunting and Leeds have taken their time. The Kansas-based artist started a label, West Mineral Ltd., which earned a reputation for releasing rumbling, dark, industrial instrumental music by both him – working as a Pendant – and spirits related. This week, six years after Huerco S.’s last album, he finally returns with the project’s third album, Pinard.

Pinard is a very different disc from its predecessor. For those of you was often dreamy and placid, but Pinard, with its onomatopoeic title, suggests a sort of mission statement. The opening “Plonk I” is constructed from what feels like the plucking of a digitally generated stringed instrument, and Leeds seems determined to seize the moment of attack – that triple jolt of energy disrupts the silence and every note turns out. The tones initially sound random, like a bucket of coins being thrown over a harp lying on its side, but as the piece unfolds you notice strange clusters of recurring melodies. The producer assembles much of the rest of the album around patterns laden with pointillist sounds whose structures gradually reveal themselves, passing from nervousness and agitation to passages of deep and thoughtful calm. It is a work that invites active listening, shifting attention from one wavy detail to the next, then retreating to capture the whole.

The “plonks” that make up the opening piece appear repeatedly throughout the collection in subtly different ways. And as those sounds fade away and come back, one notices how carefully Leeds sequenced the record. It has a noticeable arc, moving from crisp specificity to more liquid music – little by little the percussion gives way as the edges soften and the arrangements become more open. Its effect is cumulative, and the meaning of each track depends on what precedes and what follows. This is an album that demands to be heard from start to finish.

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Leeds said in a recent interview with the Electronic Music Bulletin First floor that for his own pleasure he listens almost exclusively to rap, and that he appoints young producers including Popstar Benny and the Surf Gang collective. The latter’s dense, colorful beats are filled with eerie, busy drumming and blocky video game gurgling that’s thriving on SoundCloud. On time, Pinard offers what could be heard as a colder, more abstract take on some of that production aesthetic. “Plonk III” assembles fragments of rattling metal, with programmed beats that sound like a solo from a drummer using knitting needles instead of sticks, then “Plonk IV” has a jerky beat reminiscent of British dance style millennium. 2 stages, complete with a repeated burst that could be a cyborg screaming with its hands up.

As the record develops, those percussive tapestries disappear, and Leeds brings his lyrical impulses to the fore, and his melodic sense is his secret weapon. “Plonk VI” is based on a crystal-clear synth line reminiscent of a light-refracting chandelier, and it’s easy to see how sections of the track could be adapted to fit a hyperpop ballad of post-Sophia universe. Here, Leeds builds a frame for what could clearly be a “song” but allows the listener to color within its lines, and the beauty of the production is breathtaking. The melodies of “Plonk VII” are just as pretty, but he bursts them via the echoes of the dub. Although his music is loop-based, you never end up at the same place you started. There is always a feeling of movement and change, even if it is sometimes subliminal.

At the end of Pinard the subtle changes have reached critical mass, and we feel a long way from where we started. “Plonk IX” features rapper SIR EU from Washington, D.C., delivering sprinkled, mindful rhymes evoking DOOM MF at its most fragmented. Leeds’ whirlwind production, filled with low-end hits that sound like they came from a broken machine, complement SIR EU’s vocals, and the track is deeply eerie. And then the set ends with “Plonk X”, which delivers what those who met Huerco S. via For those of you could have expected from this LP. It’s absolutely stunning, with heart-pounding melody notes coming out of the braided drones and then drifting away – the blend is superb, keeping every element in perfect balance.

The final song is the longest track on the album at over 11 minutes, and when heard in the context of what comes before, it sounds sublime, even emotionally overwhelming. Pinard is an hour-long experience that works best when you can confront it on its own terms. And after a few listens, all the little details, skilful micro-rhythms and fragments of Leeds melody settle in your mind. As a thought experiment, imagine if the whole record had been in the vein of his last track: Leeds would have given those who discovered Huerco S. in 2016 what they expected. But with Pinardhe chose a more challenging and ultimately rewarding path, further expanding the scope of the project while retaining its essence.


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