This Time, It's Real

Crystal Warmth


Liam Murphy

March 19, 2023

Tracks in this feature

Tracks in this release

Environments shift dreamily between the real and unreal on this release, a selection of rich and distinguished tracks, amounting to a masterpiece

In complete stillness and quietude is often when the lines between the real and unreal can be crossed and explored. Some ambient releases employ certain characteristics to attempt to lull the listener along with them across this line, guiding them into a mental state less bound by physicality and free to ascribe a more spirit-like understanding of reality. Though much of ambient music – like field recordings, for instance – delight in uncovering the tranquil nature of the everyday, dialling in on mundane activity and the beauty locked within.

This Time, It’s Real, a release on the long-running “post-internet label” & Options takes on a different and more unique objective. Beckoning the listener back and forth across the threshold, in order to elicit a unique collection of phases and a disorientating but very striking experience for the listener, all in the format of modest ambient journeys. 

The release’s first track, Komori begins to bloom over its 9-minute runtime. Space-y, dreamlike pads are employed, joined gradually by a strange juddering sound. The scene unfolds into something strange and unnatural. Everything creaks slowly. A human voice weaves its way in with choral notes, offering something close to a human presence and offering a more reassuring element of the environment. Though the scene is unreal for the most part, something in the warmth of the instrumentation gives a feeling of repose. As if the listener should accept their surroundings, and the weirdness with which they glimmer. The uplifting and ever-cerebral call of panpipes floats past dissonant sounds, peeling off and scowling in the gloomy light of the soundscape. These melodic swells take centre-stage and something close to a catharsis is reached, the voice even seeming to take on a definitively human form. Familiarity in a strange, thick fog. This moment passes though and the strange scene is cleared of obfuscating elements, revealing the machinations of the digital vocal replication, a hallowed piano soundtracking this almost tragic revelation. All this happens before Crystal Warmth massages reality back into view in the form of a lively – though emotionally artificial – advert followed by a news update. 

This slow flicker between the real and abstract can be found throughout much of the release, but employed in altogether different and inventive ways. Love of… starts much like a classic rain-stricken ambient still life, blurry shapes sway reassuringly in front of us. The soothing refrain, moving in and out like steady breathing, gives way to more adventurous pads as the forms are almost wiped away completely. But then, a car horn suddenly peels out of the abstract colours. Insurgent and almost in the guise of a soft note, it brings the real nearer and clearer in the listener’s view. A few seconds after and the muffled bark of a dog brings the abstract vision crashing into the physical realm. The bark feels almost vicious in its signalling of reality. The dream-world struggles to recover, before it begins to oscillate wildly off its hinges, its soft edges jarring with the real world. The track feels alive and almost seems to limp away for a few minutes as the once calming sounds struggle to regain their footing. This describes just the first few minutes of a 16-minute track.

Coming out of describing particular moments on This Time, It’s Real, the tone of the release as a whole is something to marvel at more generally. Though moods change and phases come and go, the overall aura is one of gloom. Surreal by itself, it is reminiscent of a cloudy day, just before the sun has completely gone. It sounds like a world, succumb to shadow, save for the slight illumination of a bruised purple sky. 

It's impossible to list all of the experiences that inhabit this release which, by its own admission, behaves as some kind of “real memory generator”. Crystal Warmth’s hard work is abundantly evident all over it. The artist’s care when creating these environments allow the listener to truly live inside them in their runtime. But, while swimming or dreamwalking through them, one finds themselves questioning that one thing assured to them at the start of their journey: This Time, It’s Real. But, is it?