Spanish producer Agustín Mena makes ambient music of a fearsome purity.
As Warmth, Spanish producer Agustín Mena makes ambient music of a fearsome purity. This is not music that seeks to elicit an emotional reaction or stake out a psychedelic space for the listener to explore. This is ambient in the strictest, most workmanlike sense, and though Mena comes from club music (he was a dub techno producer before shedding all aspects of his sound save distant chords), his music is closer to what Brian Eno envisioned when he stipulated a new form of music that could act as “wallpaper.” Eno recently released a box set of music intended to accompany art installations. It sounds like free jazz compared to Warmth.
But over Mena’s impressive recent run of albums—2016’s Essay, last year’s Home, and the brand-new Parallel—little wrinkles have appeared in the project that reveal more going on than meets the eye. Though the three records had almost exactly the same sound palate, the mood of each is distinct and obvious. Essay was positive, an album for meditation and deep thought, a happy place; it accomplished this through an expansive presence in the stereo field and subtle frills like electric piano. Home was colder and more insular, occupying the dead center of the stereo field and focusing on heavy bass tones rather than comfortable midrange.
Parallel finds a neat middle ground between the two, the midrange allowing the music to maintain the illusion of wide-open space while the bass injects a subterranean sense of foreboding. This is the most ambiguous music Mena’s made yet, and part of what makes it work is that it never tells us how to feel. We have to bring our own feelings to it, and our thought process is as likely to go down a dark path as a light one. Some might find amniotic bliss in this album. To me it sounds more like the calm before a storm. If we know Warmth we know that storm will never come, but there’s something eerie about the stillness of this music.
More than any past Warmth album, Parallel feels heavy. There’s something almost drone-metal about the way its thick floor of bass hangs stagnantly throughout the music. It moves sluggishly, and though chord changes are luxuries in music like this, they take place so slowly as to be almost imperceptible, the chords bleeding into each other like liquids mixing. Mena claims Parallel is a tribute to the “minimalist ambient music of the nineties,” and though it’s hard to say what Mena had in mind—fellow dub techno journeyman Thomas Köner’s Permafrost has a similar sound palate—it’s hard not to think of Wolfgang Voigt’s work as Gas.
The most recent Gas albums, last year’s Narkopop and this year’s Rausch, have sought to expand the sound of the project by incorporating trickier drums and deeper, more hi-fi textures. But Mena’s allegiance is resolutely to this sound. Hearing a track from any of the last three Warmth albums on its own, you might have a hard time matching it up to the right record, even as they take on different dimensions in context. People who like a little more going on in their ambient might find this music frustrating, it passes by so imperceptibly that most of these peculiarities may not register. Warmth is aptly named: this is less an album than an emanation.