Ensemble Economique, Standing Still, Facing Forward (Amish)

Standing Still Facing ForwardBrian Pyle

A couple of years back I took a chance on the debut release by Ensemble Economique, aka Brian Pyle of Starving Weirdos. Released by Digitalis, At The Foot Of Endless Roads began with a couple of tracks of mimimalist drone, before heading into much denser and darker terrain, picking up tribal percussion and strange instrumentation as it did. As good as this was, it doesn’t serve as a terribly useful signpost for where Pyle has gone next. Standing Still, Facing Forward, the second release in Amish Records’ Required Wreckers series, feels like it has come totally out of the blue, adding strings, voices and field recordings to create something far richer, blending kosmische with minimalist classical to create something powerful and cinematic.

Standing Still, Facing Forward confounds expectations right form the start, opening with the sombre strings of “With You At Brandy Creek”, the slow, repetitive, aching phrases recalling something from Arvo Part’s Litany. The strings shimmer on underneath the unsettling “Chamber Of Light”, alien electronics twinkling while a ghostly choir push their way up through the undergrowth, borrowing less from the great Estonian and more from early Popol Vuh (think the opening of Affenstunde, with the vocals from Aguirre; in fact the whole enterprise sounds somewhat Herzog-like). The heavy droning instrumentation of “Angkor Wat In The Mist” is dragged up and over a hill through the rain by some soaring strings and brass, achieving Pyle’s stated aim of “pushing the studio out into nature and nature into the studio”; orchestral samples and crashing percussion competing for airtime with with bird song, insect chirp and some encircling thunderstorms. The humidity is almost suffocating. The wailing harmonica of “On The Threshold And Through” ends this album by summoning another noted soundtrack composer (go on, guess), but places him amongst some heavily processed, deep and ominous-sounding instrumental rumblings. It leaves you in deep, with few signposts to help you find your way back out. Should you want to find your way back out, that is.