The skinny: Mehdi Ameziane and Solange Gularte, a couple of French bookworms who met in their university library in 1997, have been releasing music under the Natural Snow Buildings moniker since 1998. Their music was first called to my attention by the good folks at Aquarius Records, who had already been following the two for several years. They’ve been noted for their extremely prolific nature, releasing gargantuan efforts such as Daughters of Darkness and Shadow Kingdom at least once a year, not to mention the output of Mehdi’s side/solo project Twinsistermoon and Solange’s Isengrind. They manage their mystique and public personae by releasing only limited edition CDRs and tapes, allowing their blend of mystical/experimental/acoustic/drone/folk whatever-it-is to spread mainly via blogs and word-of-mouth.
At a time like 2010, when the music world is bursting with new ideas and new directions, it seems unlikely that any new developments should come out of old genres, especially traditional ones such as folk music.
Natural Snow Buildings have defied these expectations, illustrating a realm of new possibility with their 2010 free-for-download release, The Centauri Agent. The Centauri Agent not only describes an imaginary, sci-fi inspired universe in miniature, but it also invites the listener to impose some sort of narrative over the mostly-instrumental drones, shimmers and moans (i.e. what is the shape of the catastrophe that prompts the penultimate track, “Emergency Network Farewell Broadcast?”—Is it “Solar Flares,” the preceding track? Or is the “Phantom Twin” responsible for the “Stuttering Probe?”), while simultaneously expanding the boundaries of both folk and ambient/drone music. It expands the realm of folk music by welcoming the expanse of space and psychedelic/noise-inspired flourishes, while for drone music it provides the possibility for content and narrative to develop—an approach often shunned by noise purists.
Not only that, but this release borders on Wagnerian excess (and it’s free!), with a total running time over 100 minutes and an opening track lasting 41 minutes long. The craziest part of all this is: it’s worth at least one listen from start to finish. This is coming from somebody with an attention span that lasts maybe 30 seconds in many cases. In this case it’s a good thing, because long after you’re sick of the flavors of the month from 2010, this release will still hold mystery and unexplored reaches of sound.