A Sort of Distance
Long-term Prospects for Israel

Music of the Week &mdash July 23, 2006

(I’m really behind on posting these—hope to catch up over the next four or five days.)

Ishq: Orchid

Ambient music is a guilty pleasure for me. I really can’t approve of the idea of music that isn’t meant to be listened to attentively, music that is, in Brian Eno’s words, “as ignorable as it is interesting” (see here for his original definition and statement of purpose). But I do like the pleasant, relaxed, reflective atmosphere it produces, alleviating boredom without being too distracting. And I like its emphasis on the sheer pleasure of sound. It’s particularly enjoyable and appropriate while driving, at which I spend an hour and a half every day.

Orchid is the best ambient album I’ve ever heard—yes, better than Eno’s work. To give it that distinction almost disqualifies it, because it’s so good that it commands too much attention to be considered ambient. It might be better to say that it creates a particular sort of dreamy atmosphere better than anything else of its type. It starts off (a little misleadingly, in view of where it’s going) with a trip-hop-ish sort of beat, then settles into a series of gentle connected pieces that are sometimes melodic, sometimes droning, and have a sort of low-key wistful emotionality that is not normally found in ambient music. There are synthesized sounds (of course) but also warm female voices, natural instruments and real-world sounds: water, birds, an airliner passing overhead, children playing in a pool or stream. That sort of thing is often used in ambient music, but never so effectively.

In one sentence: it’s a 78-minute vacation in some lush, tranquil place by the water. Or perhaps it might be a little more accurate to say that it makes you nostalgic for the perfect vacation you never had and never will have: an aural visit to the earthly paradise.

Although the genre is inferior to others, the fact that Orchid is the best of it seems to mean it deserves an A.

Orchid is available at eMusic.

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