I was first exposed to the ambient side of music in the gentle electronic interludes between songs on Periphery’s debut album. The juxtaposition of soft soundscapes and raging rhythms intrigued me. However, even without such contrasts, ambient and modern classical music is captivating and multi-faceted. German musician Niklas Paschburg specializes in subtle atmospherics and melodic keys. His debut full-length, Oceanic, will be available on February 9, 2018. Oceanic is a freeing float through warm waves of sound, with the occasional reminder of an undertow.
A number of track titles on this instrumental album are appropriately water- or ocean-themed, beginning with the introduction, “Pier”. This piece feels like a collection of field recordings and ambient swells that establish the themes of water and voyage saturating this record. It further provides a starting point from which to set off on our journey while flowing effectively into “Spark”. This first single opens with whirring waves of sound and washes of piano chords. Soft clicks of electronic percussion build the track’s momentum, sounding at times like a restrained take on Jake Bowen’s electronic work. This beautiful musical meditation is an intriguing beginning to the record, reaffirming the album’s oceanic themes, Paschburg’s artful and minimalist piano work, and the undercurrents of electronica that permeate the album.
At times on Oceanic, electronic percussion and synthesizers are stripped away, leaving us alone with Paschburg and his piano. On “Magnetic Petrurbation”, dancing chords and melody lead the majority of the song. An unexpected and harsh crescendo of delays and distortion create tension towards the end of the track that is resolved by demure keys. An album this restrained could easily lose a listener’s attention, but with Paschburg’s ability to build and resolve tension, our curiosity is maintained.
“Appear” ends Oceanic, and docks us after this gentle sonic voyage. The title makes me imagine that I have been floating and guiding myself through warm water for the duration of the album, until my destination finally appears before me. So what does the destination look like? This track has some of the heaviest synth use on the album, evoking S U R V I V E at times, and using some moderately unsettling scales. Conceptually, I am left to wonder whether the destination Paschburg sees is more desirable than the journey itself. Perhaps such a question is one Paschburg is directing us to consider in the context of our own lives.
Oceanic is an undeniably eloquent and gently reflective album. Niklas Paschburg capitalizes on an understanding of dynamics, narrative flow, melodic minimalism and soundscape construction to create an understated and beautiful piece of work. The record drifts quietly yet consciously, providing relaxing accompaniment to an end of day reflection, a walk through a white winterscape, or, most fittingly, a paddle through still waters. Of course, some may find the relaxed and understated music here to not be sufficiently engaging for the album’s 47 minute run time. However, for those looking for an album that encourages one to either peer into the depths of oneself or swim in the shallow, warm waters of relaxation, Oceanic is a perfect vessel.
Notable Tracks: “Magnetic Petrurbation”; “Fragmentation”
FFO: Joep Beving, Jake Bowen