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Phonothek - Lost In Fog (2016) - Review

Band: Phonothek
Album title: Lost In Fog
Release date: 17 May 2016
Label: Cryo Chamber

01. Old Swings
02. Last Train
03. She Was In A Dream
04. Something Happened
05. Heavy Thoughts
06. Dancing With The Ghost
07. Clown Is Dead
08. Lost In Fog

Cryo Chamber has proven to be one of the biggest players on the dark ambient scene in recent years. Since 2013, Simon Heath has been releasing albums from an ever increasing roster of dark ambient artists. He jump-started the Cryo Chamber label with his two main projects Atrium Carceri and Sabled Sun. But, we have also seen him become one of the most sought out engineers in the scene, mastering a vast catalog of releases over a short period of time. For most of this time period we have seen Cryo Chamber become known for its mastery of "cinematic dark ambient" heavily relying on field recordings and generally subdued atmospherics. This year, however, we are witnessing a shift, rather an evolution, in the Cryo Chamber roster. Almost every album so far this year have packed plenty of surprises and new ideas/directions.

The Phonothek debut appears to be one more step in the expansion of the Cryo Chamber image. On Lost In Fog, we hear a lot more overtly musical elements than are often present. If a comparison to some other act were to be made, I would happily compare Lost In Fog to a dark ambient version of Bohren & Der Club of Gore. The first thing with this album that really leaped out at me was its incorporation of elements of jazz. Also, drawing comparisons to Kilimanjaro Dark Jazz Ensemble. Yet Phonothek haven't latched on to the framing of these aforementioned bands, rather they present an album which is clearly dark ambient, but nods to so much more. Each track, from the very start, has a distinctly dark ambient feel to it, yet when those horn, string, and piano arrangements pop up, they deliver an extremely enjoyable and novel layer to the mix.

Lost In Fog starts out with "Old Swings", a brilliant track that leads with definitively dark ambient rumblings on the low-end, which are complimented by a plethora of interesting sounds and textures. Over this is the prevalent sound of swings creaking as they move back and forth, and something that could just as easily be a heavily modified horn sound as a child's voice singing. This voice has a sort of anime vibe to it, feeling equal parts dreamy and nightmarish. This blend of dream/nightmare seems to be prevalent throughout the album. The dichotomy gives the entirety of Lost In Fog a brilliantly dramatic and cinematic edge.

The cinematic aspect is further displayed in the choice of track titles. It seems as though we are being guided through a story, and each title gives a bit of a hint into the narrative. As with many dark ambient releases, there are enough hints here to suggest a theme and a progression of scenes. Yet luckily these hints are not commanding enough to steal the sense of mystery and discovery from the listener. Like in a David Lynch film, repeated play-throughs bring out little bits and pieces of the puzzle, suggesting a narrative, but never overtly illustrating it. This gives me reason to go back to the album again and again, not merely to hear the tunes (which are fantastic with or without contemplating a story-line), but to test theories that came to mind in previous play-throughs. This is a reason that I hold the Sabled Sun 214X series in such high regards. With so much music constantly flooding the market, it is really refreshing to find something that doesn't give itself away on its first outing, but starts to grow on the listener, as they build a framework in their mind. Listening closely for hints and key elements becomes quite an enjoyable experience in itself, regardless of whether any deeper understanding of the story is realized or not.

Crafting an album which can be equal parts musical, ambient, and cinematic is no easy task. Often artists will fall short in one of these areas, compromising the entirety of their vision. This is far from the case with Lost In Fog. Everything seems to be spot on, each shift meticulously crafted, each track title giving just enough hints. The overall sound of the album is just as praise-worthy. With so many elements of different genres and sounds coming together, it is quite obvious that Phonothek, as well as Simon Heath, gently shaped and nurtured this album to bring forth one of the most well-balanced and solid releases on Cryo Chamber to date. Don't get me wrong, I am a huge fan of several handfuls of releases from this label, but branching out and giving the listeners something that is just as well crafted as it is novel can be quite a challenge. Yet, with Lost In Fog, Phonothek and Simon Heath have clearly been successful at bringing a lofty vision to reality. I would highly recommend this release to any fans of the more cinematic variety of dark ambient, as well as fans of slightly more structured acts like Bohren & Der Club of Gore or Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble. Lost in Fog is once again proof that dark ambient can be such a versatile genre and while some like to argue that the genre is waning, it is clearly obvious that these artists have no interest in listening to that. Phonothek prove that there is still quite a lot more to offer in this area, much of which we may not even realize is possible until someone comes along and pushes the boundaries just a bit further. Turn off the lights, put on your headphones, and get Lost In Fog.

Review written by: Michael
Rating: 9/10