Mark Bradley

Temple Music

Golden Cloud Tapes has done us the fine pleasure of reissuing this CD-r from 2011 on cassette tape recently, apparently because the original was so under-printed, under-distributed, and thus, under-appreciated. So those of us under-familiar with the work of Mark Bradley can now be instantly transported into his world with the click of a play button, an act that becomes something of a field trip to a synth multi-cultural hub. Nearly all facets of what we can loosely file under the umbrella of "synth ambience" are here explored, and not only that, but each is executed with precision and delicate prowess, Bradley tickling plastic keys with a soft and endearing touch to produce cool rains of stoccatto tone droplets, or elsewhere massaging sounds out into smoothly rolling landscapes of drone. And indeed, this is one of the more impressive features of Temple Music, that though there are many others in the realm of ambient synth composition and many of them may at times sound like one, maybe two or three of the tunes on this tape, none can encompass as wide a range of styles and moods in one place as Bradley manages to capture on the whole of the album.

The tracks seesaw between polarities of hopeless optimism and sheer desolation, often finding compelling emotional centers at various points along the spectrum. Nothing is ever null or void of feeling, but sometimes Bradley might catch you wondering if what you're hearing is uplifting or downcast, and of course our real emotional lives are rarely ever so black and white. Thus, the record travels along like a vision that might not necessarily be good, nor is it a nightmare — Sounds drift though oddball tonalities before squaring themselves in beautiful consonant refrains, only to break themselves free to float again through areas of harmonic chance and wonder. This kind of unstable composition (found within the span of certain tracks as well as throughout the album as an entire work) keeps Temple Music in a constant dream state where nothing is as it seems, nor does it ever swivel or pivot just the way you expect. Even percussion slips its way into the mix on side B which comes as a total surprise, yet makes musical sense in context with the rest of the record, a 1/4-note pulse evoking some kind of shaman psychedelia, a spirit quest of sorts.

The other thing that sets Bradley's work apart on this tape is his ability to hold back, keep the mix lean and let the almost accidental harmonies and textures fill things out. There's a lushness to Temple Music although it's a feeling you might think can only be achieved through endless layering, stacking synth upon synth to create the illusion of drama. Bradley's approach is different, picking choice patches of sound in sparse, wisely arranged combinations. Sometimes its the improvisational counterpoint between a couple of sets of melodies tiptoeing around one another, and at others its Bradley zoning in on a synth's individual potential to achieve the kind of emotional draws or calming aural massages I've already discussed in this review. And it's remarkable just how effective the sparse angle is, especially in the less-rhythmic, dronier works.

Of course, a lot of the stuff I've discussed in this review could work to Bradley's detriment — his lack of focus, etc. but at the same time it's hard to deny the hypnotic, meditative powers of Temple Music, how this record has a weird flow despite each track's uniqueness, nor is it easy to ignore just how beautiful things can get, especially when a more clearly recognizable piano patch is put into play. Bradley's world of synth feels foreign for sure, but we have to remember that we're still always at the very least familiar with what isn't necesarily 100% understood. Temple Music is an album that feels like it uses a single voice filtered through a number of different languages, all of which I wouldn't mind learning how to translate for myself. But even if I can't understand a word of French, it's still music to my ears.


Golden Cloud Tapes

February 12th, 2013  


great tape