Loom Dream weaves its story slowly.
Here’s a treat: a post-rave comedown album that relies not on smiley-face nostalgia or druggy mischief but a lush, artisanal sound design. Welsh producer Leif Knowles is associated with the rural, limited-capacity Freerotation rave, and in its site-specificity, suite-like structure and soupy, aquatic textures punctuated by the lope of a slow techno beat, his third album, Loom Dream, resembles Donato Dozzy and Neel’s masterpiece Voices from the Lake, culled from material debuted at Japan’s Labyrinth festival. But while that was an immersive journey into a swampy soundworld, Loom Dream feels more like a souvenir, a 34-minute thing you can just throw on if you need a lift. With its omnipresent birdsong, plantastic song titles, and “ethnic” cues like mbira and marimba, the record has the air of a new-age luxury product, the sonic equivalent of a spa day. Even its name sounds a bit like a high-end knitting shop.
Loom Dream weaves its story slowly, the tempo fast enough to drive the narrative forward but not so fast you could really dance to it. Beat-oriented tracks share space with lengthy drifts like “Mimosa,” offering a little bit of scenic variation within its strictly chaperoned confines. To call this album a “journey” implies arduousness and the possibility of getting lost. What makes Loom Dream fun, in contrast to the usual ambient desire to evoke the mystery and size of the universe, is that that possibility doesn’t exist. This is more like a guided tour.
Previewing individual tracks—especially “Borage,” with its unusually hefty percussion and Enigma-like choirs—might leave you with the impression that this album isn’t particularly ambient, or at least nothing that could really have been called ambient after about 1997. That’s because the album builds up to tracks like “Borage” so expertly we don’t even notice how heavy they are; it’s like the proverbial frog in boiling water. There’s a prominent sidechain and a thick floor of bass throughout the album, but these don’t add the sense of foreboding we feel on, say, a recent Gas record but rather a lushness and richness the albums it takes after—the Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, the KLF’s Chill Out and Global Communication’s 76:13—lack. There’s nothing lo-fi or dissonant here, nothing ugly to sour the scenic ride.
The album does a great job of slowly luring you into its world, but it ends not with a fadeout but an abrupt stop. This seems rude. Usually, when an album ends with a sudden cut to silence, it’s to leave the listener hanging. When we listen to something like Loom Dream, though, it’s not because we want to feel uncertainty but because we want to feel comfort. The album should dissipate as slowly as it blossomed to life, and ending it so curtly feels like taking tourists out on a whale watch and then suddenly dumping them in the ocean. It feels glib and edgy, qualities at odds with an album so guileless.