Pitchfork reviews Harbor

The 14th solo release from the ambient musician and 12k label head is a refined display of his impeccable devotion to his craft.

If the title of Ambient Musician Laureate existed in the United States, Taylor Deupree would be a shoo-in. He’s not an indie-crossover success story like Grouper or William Basinski, nor does his work tend to challenge preconceptions of what ambient music can be, but he’s one of the genre’s most consummate professionals. As founder and head of the 12k label and engineering studio in New York, he’s the guy that people who master ambient albums hit up to master their own records. You can also find him working with David Sylvian and Ryuichi Sakamoto, composing music for photography installations and outdoor tea gardens, or releasing pristine-sounding, artfully crafted ambient albums united by his faded, organic visual aesthetic.

Harbor is the 14th and latest of these releases, and Deupree’s sound design ensures it feels as pristine as anything he’s released while creating an intriguing wrinkle. The surfaces of these eight tracks sparkle with effervescent leads clearly played on a synth but not far removed from the Rhodes pianos beloved by the Album Leaf. Meanwhile, a heavy, ominous low end weighs these tracks down and keeps them from floating into the ether. It adds fearful tension to this largely optimistic music. If Harbor is meant to evoke its title, it’s easy to imagine an idyllic surface of beaches and sailboats perched above the murky depths of the ocean.

But Harbor is less effective as a travelog than as a sculptural object, and the way the different layers of sound interact is more interesting than what they’re supposed to represent; it’s easy to marvel at all the individual noises as they flit about the stereo field. There are some wonderful effects here, like the fleck of Pastorian bass on “Mihto” and the moment when the gnarly low end takes over “Desaturation” and turns it into a rather vicious noise-drone. You get the sense that Deupree has been doing this for so long that sound is like bread and butter in his hands.

Deupree loves textural grit, and each track has a slightly different assortment of burbles and hisses emanating out of the depths of the mix. The effect is less to make it sound as if it’s glitching, as in the work of fellow Y2K-era sound explorers like Vladislav Delay and Oval, and more to capture “the imperfect beauty of nature” Deupree cites as essential to both his music and his photography. It’s as if Deupree has taken these eight finely-sculpted objects and left them outside for a while so the rain and wind can work their magic. (Leave this stuff outside for a little longer and you’d have Mike Cooper.)

At times, Harbor sounds uncannily similar to some of the music currently being put out by the West Mineral stable of musicians, especially last year’s self-titled debut from Picnic. But while those artists emphasize mystery and obscurity, as if their music is concealing all manner of shadowy secrets, there’s the sense with Harbor that what we’re hearing is what we’re seeing. This music is so high-definition, each element so precisely mixed and clearly emphasized, that there’s never a sense of anything hidden or left to the imagination. Luckily, what’s already there is more than sufficient to stir it.

Harbor

I’ve got a new album called Harbor coming out on CD and LP on the French Label Laaps. This is a label run by the folks who do IIKKI which released mine and Marcus Fischer’s Lowlands album. You can order it here:

HARBOR

Conversations Late at Night

I had a lovely talk for a podcast called Converstations Late at Night about Japan, my music and the importance of community. you can check it out here:

CONVERSATIONS LATE AT NIGHT

Collaboration with Fennesz

Christian Fennesz and I have collaborated on a song called “Guru,” utilizing the poem of the same name for the second volume of ‘Allen Ginsberg’s The Fall of America’.

This exciting tribute celebrates the 50th Anniversary of beloved poet Allen Ginsberg’s “The Fall of America: Poems of these States”, 1965-1971. In the fall of 2020 with the 50th anniversary of those poems fast approaching the curators of this release reached out to many of Allen’s musician and artist friends. Many responded enthusiastically about interpreting these poems to music; even those poems that presented more of a musical challenge. All proceeds will be donated to HeadCount.org, an organisation which promotes voter registration and participation in democracy through the power of music.

The first volume, featuring Thurston Moore & Lee Ranaldo, Angélique Kidjo, Devendra Banhart, Yo La Tengo and more is available from allenginsberg.bandcamp.com

Our track will appear on Volume Two this fall alongside a humbling cast of artists including Miho Hatori, Steve Hillage, Meat Beat Manifesto, Ai WeiWei, William Basinski, Philip Glass, and more.

Mur

March 26th saw a new release from me, titled Mur, the first solo full-length since my last, Fallen, in 2018. This release comes on the wonderful Dauw label out of Belgium.