The Sheffield-based Audiobulb Records label was formed in 2003 by David Newman as a home for “exploratory electronic music.” The term is intentionally vague, which was a rather smart move on his part. The variety of music the label has released over the years is fairly broad. All of the releases share one important element however - which is the stamp of approval from Mr. Newman. That is no small thing when one listens to a few of the albums he has released.
Follow The Dark As If It Were Light by A Dancing Beggar is a perfect example. A Dancing Beggar is the nom de plume of the 23-year old James Simmons, and was released last May. Being a small, independent label based in the U.K., Audiobulb’s recordings unfortunately do not get the type of attention here in the United States that they so richly deserve. If I had heard this album when it was released, it would have made my “Top 10 of 2011” list without question.
Follow The Dark As If It Were Light is actually the second full-length album from A Dancing Beggar. His first was titled What We Left Behind. James Simmons has actually made the task of describing his music fairly easy for me, as he himself refers to it as “ambient.“ When done right, ambient music is a form that I adore. Sadly, too many critics (and artists) have used that term to a point of overkill. In the case of Follow The Dark As If It Were Light though, we are presented with the very best of what ambient music has to offer.
The album is a seven-song, 52-minute experience in bliss. On each track, Mr. Simmons opens with a gentle (yet intriguing) melody, and slowly expands it. Follow The Dark is almost purely instrumental, although during “Empty Boats,” “Forget This Place,” and “Here Come The Wolves,“ we hear a blend of choir-like voices which are mixed perfectly with the music at hand. The intent is clearly to add the human voice as simply another element to the overall instrumental palette.
The very nature of the form of a record review is (quite obviously) using words to describe music. Yet with an album like this, words and phrases are so inadequate that it is almost maddening. For this listener, it is the combination of the various instruments, occasional voices, and overall texture which makes ambient music so compelling. One of the keys to it all though is to never allow one aspect to overshadow the rest.
The effect is one of almost imperceptibly changing textures. Not falling into the (probably) overwhelming temptation to emphasize one instrumental sound over another over the course of the piece seems to be one of the most difficult obstacles for the musician to overcome.
Quite frankly, to pick a “favorite” out of the seven cuts on Follow The Dark is a nearly ludicrous idea. But for the sake of illustration, I will single out the 9:47 “Returning” for special mention. A Dancing Beggar uses all of the tools at his disposal during the course of this track, and it is one I would play for anyone who ever wondered what it “is” exactly that makes ambient music so special to me.
The best ambient music is often described as taking the listener on a journey. Without question, that is the effect Follow The Dark As If It Were Light had upon me. For fans of this type of music, I have not heard anything as remarkably true to the form since the demise of the Silent Records label. I highly recommend going to the Audiobulb site to check out more of this music. It is certainly one of the best record-label sites I have seen, with a tremendous amount of information regarding not only A Dancing Beggar, but their other artists as well.
For now though, let me just say that Follow The Dark As If It Were Light stands among the finest ambient albums I have heard.
Article first published as Music Review: A Dancing Beggar - Follow The Dark As If It Were Light on Blogcritics.