Original Issue: 1994 Soleilmoon (SOL 23CD)
Reissue: 2002 Leaf (BAY 8 CDX)
Margot-meter: 4,5 moons / 5
|2||Drowning Light (3:49)|
|3||Twice As Evil As You (3:01)|
|4||Hole In The Heart (3:53)|
|6||Flamenco 1 (2:42)|
|7||Scorched Earth (4:05)|
|9||Someplace South Of Here (6:38)|
|11||Flamenco 2 (2:06)|
|13||Jane Russell (2:11)|
A Small Good Thing specializes in the imaginary soundtrack, a narrative musical format pioneered by Barry Adamson, who intended his albums to be bleak noir soundtracks to films that never existed. With an imaginary soundtrack, the composer uses the tropes of film music -- notably, incidental interludes that link dialogue and dramatic orchestrations to crucial plot development -- to set a moody context, leaving the listener to fill in the visual blanks.
A Small Good Thing's debut album, 1994's Slim Westerns, is a gorgeous ambient album set out to dry in the southwestern desert. On the song "Godforsaken," A Small Good Thing drops ample references to Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores, adding the dusty sounds of a slide guitar over ambient passages that would make Brian Eno proud.
"Somewhere South of Here" gets tense with the persistent toll of a funeral bell and a handful of badass spoken word samples from world-weary gunslingers. "The Pink & Purple World Of Dishonesty" tells a cyber-noir tale drawing from the jazz-laden soap opera scores that Angelo Baldamenti composed for "Twin Peaks."
"Peep-Show Eccentriques" is a slow electronic swing number topped off with muted trumpet, while "Re-Arranged Face" features a drunk solitary pianist tapping out irregular chords that succumb to a digitized electronic wash.
When I first began reading the descriptions... "music for an imaginary western" and "ambient rodeo music", this sounded like something I'd like.
It is. Slim Westerns sets an arid, ambient southwestern desert mood. Get used to the dusty sound of slide guitar...
...from the opening notes of godforsaken , until the disc's close some 52 minutes later, you'll be hearing alot of it, and other variations. This entire disc is built mainly upon these acoustic and electric tones, along with various percussive, electronic and sampled elements. The strummings and pluckings of the first track will give you a good idea of the things to come.
Judicious use of samples throughout the disc help build the western aura; in drowning light, it is a man's lonesome whistle that adds to the music. (Really, think about it... they could have gone nuts with the sound effects; horses, gunshots, honky-tonk pianos, saloon fights... but they keep it appropriately low-key)
twice as evil as you is the only track that seems to break from the CD's southwestern mode (and has no guitar); it's much more gothic, sounding like music for a cheesy made-for-TV horror film (and really, I mean that in a good way...). Solemn bells accompany wood synth and string for this.
Then, back to the desert... Peaceful sounds of finger-strummed guitar and light percussion form hole in the heart. The mood is much lighter than the title might imply.
gulch opens with the whoosh of a rope, the squawk of buzzards and the tolling of a funeral bell. Various thrumming chords and low electronics also punctuate the piece as it unfold. flamenco 1 fades in like a mirage rippling slowly in the sun, shimmering beautifully for a short 2:30.
A slow, sparse arrangement of plucked strings and piano tones make scorched earth the mellow beauty that it is. Its companion piece, heathaze features more strummed and picked acoustic guitar layered over a smooth bed of synth, and closes with the same notes that open the previous tune.
Spoken word samples (assumedly from old Westerns) and clanging metal flavor someplace south of here, as does its sloowly pulsing electronic rhythm. Many other instruments and sounds blend in unobtrusively (but what are those gregorian monks doing out there?!) Another short track, gunsmoke gives us more guitar and background synth.
flamenco 2 adds strange electric burblings to the ripples of its previous namesake, but for barely 2 minutes. saguaro continues to successfully mine the same general musical vein, adding a bit of twanging jew's harp. A breathy wind instrument accompanies the dryly whimsical strum of the disc's closer, jane russell.
It strikes me as odd how these English musicians (A Small, Good Thing is a side project by members of tribal ambienteers O Yuki Conjugate) are again setting their ambient excursions in the American Southwest, as did The KLF with Chill Out . But, at any rate, I'm just glad they have.
I love it with both thumbs! It's serene, interesting and so atmospheric. One of my personal favorites. Turn your living space into an American desert paradise.
David J Opdyke