Toronto-based producer Alaskan Tapes released his full-length album last week, and after sinking our ears into the narrative of this 9-track body of work, we had to put our thoughts down in writing.
Most ambient albums can often be hard to review, as they too commonly are a collection of soundscapes and ambiance strung together without rhyme or reason (both literally and figuratively). But the soft arrangements, more complex instrumentation, and masterful works of sonic engineering that Alaskan Tapes was able to bend his sound into for this album are second to none.
We are so enamored by the album itself that we are even hosting a contest with the label and artist, providing you an exclusive opportunity to win one of two copies of the album on vinyl! Just provide some extra information so we can contact you in case you win before diving into the comprehensive review of Who Tends A Garden.
‘Of Woods and Seas’
The album’s opening song sets the tone with lush and ambient pacing, with delicate synth pads and delicate textures slowly building to an inevitable something. As these textures cascade upwards, they reach their apex before fading to silence, and Alaskan Tapes’ signature piano style is there to replace them.
The halfway point of this leading record marks the end of the prelude and the true start to the body of work overall. And while, throughout the rest of the song, the textures continue to ebb and flow as they do, the piano does its best to remain the steady constant.
‘Who Tends a Garden
The second track starts with a similar. soundscape texture, derived from a more acoustic-sounding source, evokes a greater sense of authenticity and connection between the artist, the music, and the listener. From this bed of texture and sounds, Alaksan Tapes’ keys can be heard but faintly in the backdrop of the music.
The arrangement slowly drifts and evolves behind it without a clear direction. The song’s wandering journey and narrative arc leave new details to be discovered upon each listen, begging repeat after repeat!
with more foley and natural-sounding details used as the foundation for this track, ‘Everending’ lives in a far more realistic space than the previous songs on the album. Gongs and chimes create the primary melodic foundation of the track, and Alaskan Tapes’ signature atmospheres continue to develop from there.
Added delays and more intricate effects slowly wash over the chimes, creating an ethereal and hyper-real quality in the sole hook of the track, allowing us to get lost in the sounds and music.
Without the complex layering and nuances of the previous tracks, the straightforward simplicity of the fourth track on the record speaks for itself. String lines form the primary foundation of the track, with slow-evolving, plucks of a dulcimer-like instrument playing off the sweeping strings.
Sometimes, the harmonies and chord progressions drift to a halt, giving time for reflection and peace before the plucks enter into the mix and bagpipe whispers keep each section fresh and lively.
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This track is where the album takes a more playful turn in its overarching narrative. Far more rapid-paced pianos give a defined melodic structure, whereas before, the album was based on soundscapes and textures more than singular melodies and motifs.
With a sparser arrangement, more attention is left to direct all of the focus upon the felt pianos, allowing us to hear every action and stroke the hammer’s play perfectly.
‘Still Diving and Diving Still’
Another track that creates its foundation on the authentic recording and textures of the natural world, ocean ways and delicate keys create a world of their own where ghost-like vocals drift and chime their way around.
Much like the waves beneath the music, the melodies and harmonies ebb and flow without ever reaching their apex. Reversed atmospheres and melodic make the primary motifs of the song ephemeral, making the track lack any form of distinction and never finding its center – only further proving the point of made in the title.
‘A Long Line of Violet Hills’
Listening to ‘A Long Line of Violet Hills,’ it’s easy to see how the album in its entirety has lead up to this moment. Like a restrained orchestra, strings and woodwinds create anthemic-and-blissful moments that feel larger than life while simultaneously as if they are playing just for you.
As the track waxes toward its climax, delicate guitar lines and subtle and supplementary meldoic textures work their way into the mix without detracting from the core idea.
‘Swimming and Dancing and Floating in Circles’
By far the longest track on the album, ‘Swiming and Dancing and Floating in Circles’ tells a vast story of small scope. The expansive textures and clever use of the stereo field create a scene and backdrop that feels as if you could reach out, grab it, and store it in the thimble. The textures and harmonies brush against each other in fluid motion, drifting to and back in a seamless echo.
As the album looks towards its ending, this track reflects where we’ve been throughout the journey and gives us solace in knowing that we can return.
One of the shorter tracks on the album, this track has a haunting quality that transports the listener to a new place to view the album as a whole in a new light. The heavenly textures and supple nuances of the track allow us to view the album with new perspectives and leave us with a completely different emotional draw than many of the tracks on the album that came before it.
Fading to silence a full fifteen seconds before the official end of the track, the music airs on the side of finality and fades to white upon its leaving.