The patience of someone who regularly listens to ambient music has undoubtedly got to be larger than that of even your usual indie music fan. The latter of those might crease their foreheads when they hear one of their favourite bands has included a fifteen minute drone track on their new album, but given a little time, and the full context of the album, they’ll likely welcome it into their hearts eventually. Offer them two hours of the stuff, though, and they’ll wince further if not turn their heels around and walk away in search of a download link for Grizzly Bear’s new album.
Thus, I think you really have to hand it to the devoted listeners of ambient music who spend hours and hours carefully unfurling the skin of single track, figuring out what distinguishes it from the numerous others in their vast collection, and what feeling it is the music evokes, or what task it ideally could be used to soundtrack. And kudos too, to the artists who spends an undefinable amount of time constructing and creating this music; music they know will be predominately treated as something to put on in the background.
Kyle Bobby Dunn is one such artist, who has spent the last decade or so creating music that unfurls traditional instruments into long-winded movements, exploring textures and the effect of time on a sound. Whether deliberate or not, he makes pretty good background music. On his last album, Ways of Meaning, Dunn was, for the most part, more economical with his pieces, and in turn created something that bit more focused and precise, all while retaining a glacial pace at which the listener could fall into easily. His latest album, however — the overly-violently, but humouredly and wryly titled Bring Me The Head of Kyle Bobby Dunn — once again has Dunn working at length, offering fifteen compositions in the space of two hours.
If that sounds like an exhausting prospect, then you’re right; even Dunn himself realizes the album is noticeably long. Fans of his work, though, won’t be too surprised as he’s worked at this length before (2010’s A Young Person’s Guide To Kyle Bobby Dunn), and nor are they likely to be too dismayed at what’s on offer here. Once again Dunn creates slow, careful, and judicious pieces that mirror the sound between the memories in your head, often lulling the listener into an introspective calm. “The Hungover” bleeds pleasant tones in and out of the picture, making the noises of the world around you — a ticking clock, the footsteps of the neighbour upstairs — come to life, like they are part of the vast sonic palette. It’s music that evokes a sort of subconscious interaction, helping accentuate your casual indoor life (I don’t recommended Dunn’s music for outdoor listening, unless you can get away from the din of the city), allowing the rooms to breathe, and the sunlight shining through to have a suddenly more specific and poignant beauty.
Dunn does weave in his own sonic details, though: in the final moments of “Ending All Odds” there’s a faint occasional clattering in the distance, while the end of “An Evening With Dusty” sounds like it has the muffled remnants of some recorded chattering. Elsewhere the music recalls familiar noises, but in way that would make them seem far off, and/or part of a memory. “The Trouble with Tres Belles” recalls the noise of traffic, albeit slowed down and turned into a spaced-out hum, and “The Calm Idiots of Yesterday” has a constant whispering of waves in the background, managing to make the sound of a beach an even more soothing prospect. As much as Dunn might himself deny or dislike the label, it’s really nice ambient music.
But two hours is a long listen, and that’s one of the issues with Bring Me The Head. Before on A Young Person’s Guide, there was a clear split between the two discs (disc one being an extended version of an earlier released album, the second being other compositions created at the same time), making for clear entry and exit points. Here, though, it’s equally hard not to treat the album as a whole, as it is to want to break it down. But there’s no distinct break, and it’s not until the final third of the album that the overall mood and tone changes (more on that in a moment). Once you’ve come that far, it’s as easy to want to carry on until the end as it is to want to move onto something different entirely.
That change in mood is a welcome shift, though. While it’s hard to fault Dunn for the music he makes as it plays itself out politely (if not majestically) the first two thirds of the album morph into one piece; if you asked me to describe the difference between “La Chanson de Beurrage” and “Diamond Cove (And Its Children Were Watching),” I’d struggle to give an answer. Towards the end of the album Dunn explores heavier and darker tones. On “Parkland” the constant low hum is ominous, if not unsettlingly dissonant, while “Completia Terrace” carries on the same kind of sound, utilizing a humming machine drone at each end of the song. The contrast helps the following lighter movements feel more effective: the light, peaceful washes on “In Search of a Poetic Whole” feel almost cathartic. Bring Me The Head could have done with more moments like this, to help it really flow instead of merely existing in the background. At the same time, though, as I’ve become more interested and fond of Dunn’s work, I’ve realised that he’s not out to make “ambient” music, but instead to explore thoughts, memories, meaning, and all those other feelings any other artist working within any musical genre probably wants to delve into. Thus, if this is the consequence of Dunn digging deep during a dark period, then let this be the result. Much like Dunn’s music does over the space or ten minutes or so, feelings grow, change and evolve over time, and I imagine listeners will be slowly submerging themselves into something else from Dunn before they even realise those ten minutes have gone by.