Perhaps it’s reticence on behalf of the composer, or the influence of this reviewer’s instinct for highlighting contradictions. However, I can’t push myself to attach the foreseeable “ambient” tag to Keith Berry’s current production, despite his intention of creating “mood and textures” complementing one’s listening space. Obvious comparisons were made in the past with Brian Eno’s work (that’s right, me too), and they’re still ongoing from what I can gather. But this second volume of Viable Systems, as its 2017 predecessor, offers much more to the vigilant ear than mere “pleasantly quiet company” (although it definitely works fine in that regard).
For sure part of the problem depends on the inevitable mutability of moods. In a period of dispiritedness, an individual tendency will presumably reflect a self-predisposition – adaptation, if so preferred – to the wavering harmonies and tenuous melodic particles generated by Berry, whose assuaging tonalities exude class as always. The line that separates aching melancholy from mild relief is subtle: the fourteen subdivisions of Viable Systems 2 show once again the Londoner’s ability in producing excellent soundtracks for transitoriness, in all senses. Surrounded by elegantly introspective sonorities, we can choose between reasoning at the deeper levels of intuitive consciousness, or just annihilating any kind of commitment while mesmerized by benevolent synthetic emissions.
But it is exactly when one focuses on the latter that the aforementioned “ambient mask” falls down, revealing what distinguishes this gentleman from the thousands of dabbling simpletons who too frequently assault our mail boxes (and, for the misfortune of credulous audiences, find fertile ground in the Bandcamp/Soundcloud parallel universe). Berry’s timbres are endowed with a substantial grain: linearity is turned into profoundness, as if carefully programmed presets had been improved by additional processing in view of a target residing in the addressee’s psyche. Several sections are typified by remote shifts and imperceptible alterations of the acoustic domain; there’s no trace of such subtleties in the bulk of today’s soothing electronica.
Let yourselves be nestled by these charming refractions, then. Without moving a feather.