Improvising music at a given moment isn’t just about that one time, but also all the time that came before it. For Michael Kuhl and Matthew Pierce, improvising together to make music after years of playing together in various bands in Baltimore and further afield is a moment of long-awaited mind-melding. Their debut album as The Furniture finds them together, weaving seamlessly between each other like Kuhl can anticipate Pierce’s breath (and vice versa). Their self-titled debut is taken from a single live performance recorded in the Reverb club in Baltimore, which was then cut to eight tracks of moody, stoney, and often dystopian grey ambient music.
Both musicians seem so adept at reading each other’s ideas that discerning which sounds are being made by each individual is nigh impossible. When they find a peaceful, glistening moment to languorously explore like on final track “Strom”, the result is a searching, airy moment, like being caught in a cinematic summer daze. Similarly on “Thrum” they conjure what feels like an open meadow landscape, wind rustling the tall grass as a warm A.M. synth buzz emits a sunny glow.
However, these two tracks are something of exceptions amongst the others, a couple of moments of natural, airy pause amidst the darker tones that make up the rest of the album. Opening track “Gumdrop” gives off lurking, predatory tones with a lurching bass melody surrounded by chiming bells and reverberating percussive touches. It’s like the track was actually recorded in an empty, abandoned factory. Elsewhere on “The Sloth” it sounds like said factory has come to life, splashing cymbals and synth chords evoking a sense of machine-like movement and momentum, while the bleak and hazy opening of “Down Parasite” brings to mind images of a small dinghy lost in a foggy sea.
The duo cite 1970s German experimental music like Cluster and Moondog as inspiration points, but there are touchstones lingering from a host of other sources. Echoes of Robert Rich and Lustmord’s 90s dark ambient classic album Stalker, Locrian’s The Clearing, and even smidgens of the industrial clatter of Scott Walker’s Tilt can be found here. There are also stark German expressionism vibes, with the music sometimes feeling angular and concrete while also toying gently with Krautrock rhythms.
All these comparisons and inspirations are admirable, but The Furniture is let down by not often enough finding the perfect in-between place; it’s not still enough to be fully ambient, but it’s also not full and engaging enough to reward close listening. Tracks build to half-pressing crescendos, percussion filling the picture and a sense of urgency and drama building, but often to no great avail or end point. “The Sloth” and “Down Parasite” lead the listener somewhere, but it doesn’t feel like anywhere particularly different or important. “Set To Quiver” begins on a bed of rainforest atmosphere with breathy pipes and what feels like animal chatter; the tone and texture is welcomingly different, but soon it falls into the same trappings and builds to a crescendo that doesn’t know where to go other than a gradual fade out.
There’s no doubting Kuhl and Pierce’s proficiency for making the music they do here (it can be impressively ominous or peacefully lingering at its best moments), but that doesn’t mean it’s still lacking. There needs to be more to latch onto and more final destinations that make these progressions feel worthwhile, instead of hoping that the journey is sufficient enrapturement. It would be interesting to hear the full set that the eight tracks came from, at the very least to fill in transitional gaps and give The Furniture a bit more context – but that also brings the worry that the duo chose the best moments from that session and there isn’t much else to see. These are moments of improvisational synergy for sure, but not thrilling and entrancing like one would hope from such instances of collaborative mind-melding.