Intensely engaging ambience
Ambient is not a genre that springs to mind when the word “compelling” is tossed about. Oftentimes it is inextricably linked with memories of grocery stores and elevators, or long nights putting final touches on procrastinated projects. It is the music that is heard without hearing; luckily GAS has been working to change that for ages. GAS may not have invented dark ambient, but it is doubtless that they are the ones that perfected it. They showcased this mastery with last years sprawling Narkopop and have now continued that same malevolently subdued intensity to their latest record Rausch.
As with many ambient albums, it is fruitless to differentiate the tracks on Rausch, to the point that GAS themselves have released the album in some editions as a single track, with no delineation between its seven lengthy segments. In some sense that feels like the true way to listen to this album, shuffling it will only confuse the structure of the record, leaving each song feeling incomplete. Luckily, when presented as its whole, the album is a darkly captivating masterpiece.
Some may find the hour-long work of bellowing strings and grumbling synths oppressive or disheartening, but it would be unlikely to find someone that would describe the record as dull. In some sense that is a triumph. Ambient has always suffered from the perception that it is more disposable than other genres; the proliferation of Muzak has seen a rise in disdain for the very notion of ambient. Yet what most people don’t see is the meticulously crafted atmosphere that comprises an ambient track. Each swelling note specifically chosen to embody a single emotion, its repetition exists to lull the listener into a feeling of safety and comfort. GAS has always flipped this notion on its head, opting not to comfort a listener but to unnerve them with endless drums and twinkling guitars that jangle maddeningly in the background. Rausch may not be as musically complex as Narkopop but its narrative structure is much more compelling. Each synth is an apocalypse unto itself, wholly representative of the current times in both its dour sound and unrelenting atmosphere. The album feels fitting, relevant and necessary without saying a single word.
Ambient may never be for everyone, but GAS is rapidly moving toward accessibility. There are very few artists that can successfully weave an engaging narrative without relying on words or at least some sort of titular hint. Yet Rausch is compelling at every turn, from the first track to the final in its monumental, hour-long glory. It is a monolith to the power of dark ambient, forcing listeners to confront the weight of time within its walls. Rausch could be the album to define ambient for the year, it’s unlikely any album will be able to topple it within its genre.