Four years, seventeen releases. Such is the life of an ambient musician. You know the ones who release improvised live sets on cassette, who experiment for hours and upload the results directly to Bandcamp, who finally spend months on an album only to have it function as background noise to the vast majority of its listeners. Rachel Evans, the woman behind the Motion Sickness of Time Travel moniker and the bearer of the particular statistic that leads off this article, lives this life. She’s worked in the improvisational world releasing limited edition cassettes that sell out nigh-instantaneously. She’s worked in the long-form, releasing such well respected works as 2010’s Seeping Through The Veil of The Unconscious. She’s worked in collaboration, perhaps most significantly releasing records as Quiet Evenings with her husband Grant. It’s a typical career arc, methodically pumping out releases year after year. But Evans has been building. Unlike many of her contemporaries that live their musical gestation in the public eye, there’s been a tangible growth in Evans’ work, or at least tangible landmarks.
The aforementioned Seeping Through The Veil… proved Evans imminent worth. In 2010, and most clearly with that full length, she reined in her directionless meanderings focusing instead on the atmosphere in plugging away at constant loops and exploiting the emphasis of repetition. These were no longer meaningless excursions into the ether, but pointed directional explorations of the aesthetics that she conjured over the course of her album length effort. Transcending Spheres, one of her 2011 releases, pushed further in that direction — compressing and coalescing the disparate textures of the synth-based journeys under the Motion Sickness of Time Travel name into less indulgent, more organically inflected song length tracks, with the help of her husband.
It makes sense then that this year sees the release of the most ambitious Motion Sickness of Time Travel record to date. An hour and a half self-titled treatise on what the project itself means. It’s an entry point, a distinct distillation of Evans work to date, while remaining one of her more challenging and ultimately rewarding efforts. It’s a polyptych of sorts, a four part composition designed to sit tidily on four sides of vinyl each conjuring and representing its own mood, its own room, its own set of brilliantly realized textures.
The record starts with “The Dream,” though the opening moments aren’t quite as idyllic as the name suggests. Before Evans settles into her usual pattern of reverb-laden synth loops and grain silo vocals, there’s a gauntlet of reversed instrumentation — battering you as you attempt to sink in. It’s an intensely antagonistic effect for a track, and a record so evidently in touch with its dreamier inclinations but it’s richer for it. You’re forced to strain past the opening minutes, to get through the unsettling opening before the track opens its doors for you. It’s a test, but when you’re through the labyrinthian structures of the song unfold. After that it’s a gradual shift for the rest of the piece. You can lock in to specific loops, pay attention to just those, but as time goes by you lose track, the loops you thought were yours are now buried, superseded by some dreamy congealing mass of keyboard sounds, all the while Evans coos underneath it all.
“The Center,” at its brightest moment revisits the harshness of the introduction to the record, putting you back through that gauntlet, stretching you further before Evans’ reverb smoothened vocals bring about the necessary catharsis. There’s moments like this one littered across the 90 minute running time, brief moments of terror and tension punctuating the ethereal float that marks the majority of the record.
It’s a pattern that’s not really broken up for the entirety of the record, but it’s the immensity of the prospect that brings about the best bits of the disorientation. When you finally hit the opening moments of “Summer of The Cat’s Eye” everything feels a bit strange. It’s the shock of stepping out from a movie theater into broad daylight. Though “Summer…” is the darker of the two opening tracks, its opening is sparse by comparison, so needless to say it’s a bit of a shock when all the layers of “The Dream” peel back. It’s stunning clarity after an effusive bit of staring through frosted glass.
It’s a physically taxing listen, after putting yourself through those harsher bits, it’s only fitting that the record closes with nothing but Evans’ voice undercutting that same terrifyingly reversed instrumentation from the opening moments of “The Dream.” You’ve hit your limit at the 90 minutes and Evans pushes you just a bit further, sucking out that last bit of endurance, kicking you as you crawl across the finish line. Yes, Evans has dealt in the all too familiar path of the ambient musician, throwing every thought and sketch onto a cassette and kicking it out for the world to hear, but on Motion Sickness of Time Travel she’s hit a new peak. Both in its challenging nature and its status as an emblem of everything that the Motion Sickness of Time Travel project has dealt in to date, it functions, without a doubt, as Evans most accomplished release of her career and one of the more accomplished ambient albums in recent memory.