Ken Camden: Dream Memory (Kranky)
The most noteworthy thing about Ken Camden’s latest is that for an album created by a guitarist (that’s his role in Implodes, at least), it doesn’t sound much like a guitar album at all. That’s because over the span of three albums (not to mention Implodes), Camden has been honing his skills and abilities to obfuscate the guitar and instead bridge what can often be perceived as a divide between guitar and synths. So many of the pieces on Dream Memory feel more electronic in nature, difficult to tell where synths drop off and his guitar picks up. But the most interesting thing about the album for me is the addition of a vocal sampling machine described in the press materials as a Vocaltron. It allows Camden to trigger the vocals of Emily Elhaj and Angel Olsen as continuous, prolonged pads, which feels at once human and disorienting, with tones that extend far beyond human ability but which are within each vocalist’s own respective range. The result is captivating, an airy and dreamy reference to some of Brian Eno’s most pastoral early ambient albums. The title is appropriate, with many of these tracks having the languid, lingering feeling of an afterimage.
That sort of hazy dream memory where often the blanks outnumber the clear parts, and one is left instead with the impression of a feeling rather than necessarily anything concrete. It’s that foggy abstraction that makes most of Dream Memory go down so smooth, particularly a more straightforward piece like “Renewal” which has all of the free-folk tendencies of Benoît Pioulard but with a cohesive vocal glide to connect it with the other pieces around it. That human touch is crucial when juxtaposed up against a more synthesized track like “Curiosity,” whose more somber lilt recalls some of the weightless modular excursions of M. Geddes Gengras.
With track titles like “The Melatonin Chamber,” “Asleep at the Wheel,” and “Time Bend,” Camden isn’t exactly subtle about the soporific theme of this body of work, but it all works effectively, particularly the elaborate sprawl of the title cut, all arpeggios and delay, like sheets of rain that gradually dissolve into a fine, misty haze. Fans of Emeralds, M. Geddes Gengras, and Imprints will likely fall in love with this music as I have. Recommended for quiet mornings and late nights.