Porya Hatami increased his profile in 2014 with a string of excellent releases on various labels. Shallow was my favorite album of the year, and I am still listening to it regularly a year after its release. (Review and stream here.) It was therefore intriguing to learn that a remix album was in the works, with contributions from notables such as Loscil and The Green Kingdom. Would it extend the listening pleasure or render the sublime mundane?
It has to be said that the success of this remix collection as a whole hangs to a considerable degree on what one makes of the idea of adding beats to an original that focused not on conventional rhythms, but on organically unfolding sighs, splashes, and chimes, an unhurried field of natural play and refracted light coaxed into lazily emergent patterns. Those who prefer a beat to their music may like these versions better – the marriage of Hatami’s textures to gentle beats does produce some very pleasant electronic music. For me, a few of the tracks that adopt the strategy of adding a regular, techno-descended rhythm to background textures drawn from Shallow crash sideways into my love for the gentle sunlight-on-raindrops order of the original.
There are, however enough successes to carry the day, even for my somewhat beat-averse ear. The closing minute or so of Halo’s reworking of ‘After the Rain’ carries on a delicate dialogue between a piano meditation and shimmering sounds from Hatami’s original to delightful effect. The suite of remixes of ‘White Forest’ unfolds particularly enjoyably. Purl’s version manages to add less mechanical rhythms to the original in a way that meshes with its texture and avoids losing its sense of openness and wonder. The track blends nicely into the version by Nikosf., which corrals Hatami’s chiming flurries into a looping rhythmic pattern and gives it equal footing in the mix with the added percussion, thereby keeping the tone of the original to the fore. Arovane’s version comes closer still to getting a glitschy rhythm to undergird and highlight the tones and moods of ‘White Forest,’ resulting in one of the more successful tracks on the album.
For me, the biggest highlights of the album are the opening and closing tracks. Both attempt something a little bolder than the rest, and both succeed splendidly.
Loscil’s opener, a remix of ‘Fen’, begins with a breathy texture that is recognizably the opening to Fen, but abstracted from its earthy, watery moorings into something more airy. It deepens and broadens beautifully before birthing a classic Loscil burbling/pulsing rhythm upon which fleeting touches of brighter sound surf like whitecaps. The result is in the end more Loscil than Hatami, but as a fan of both I find it quite delightful.
The closing track, a remix of ‘White Forest’ by Bjorn Rohde, is one of the few to pick up from Shallow not just its sound palette but the sense of compositional structure that helped raise it above many superficially similar ambient releases. The track moves through several phases. It opens with a deep and boldly resonant piano note and a camera whirr that grab the attention precisely because the sudden gestures depart from the looping rhythms of the album this far. It moves through a series of rustling modulations of sounds from ‘White Forest’ that are quite faithful to the original track’s sound world while foregrounding fresh details and adding a series of melodic and rhythmic motifs that ebb and flow deliciously, keeping us on a stately journey to a reprise of the opening gestures at the end. At almost 13 minutes (slightly longer than the original) it is the only track as ambitious in scope as the source material, and it is the track that best recaptures and extends the magic of that material. It is a wonderful addition to the world of Shallow, and a charming parting gift.
In some ways I was a tough customer to please with an album of Shallow remixes. Loving the original as much as I do, remixing it was likely to be like substituting ingredients in a favorite recipe or messing with the plot of a favorite novel. In the end, the album as a whole turns out to be quite enjoyable. Happily, there are even a few real gems, standout successes that uncover the strength of the source material and coax fresh pleasures from it. For those I am particularly grateful.
Buy Shallow Remixed from Dewtone Recordings here.
David Smith currently lives in the Midwestern United States, where he teaches, writes, and enjoys a very wide range of music, with regard to which he claims no expertise whatsoever beyond that of a dedicated and appreciative listener.
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