It would be premature to say that we are living in a new golden age of ambient, but it appears to be clear that it is in great shape - both in its gliding, retro form and the dark, cold version. If the former are the heirs of early Brian Eno and a handful of German synth giants from the seventies (the whole hypnagogic school would fit in there), the latter belong to an era that starts with industrial music - becomes isolationist in the early nineties upon contact with the coldest sides of techno - and is now floating between piles of vague labels and tags (hauntology, dark ambient etc.). Dalglish- or at least, his shadow – sits in the second camp: embracing the unfriendly and unnerving side to electronic textures.
Dalglish, has been inhabiting the zone where only the trapped and restless souls of the avant-garde wander, for years. His name is Chris Douglas and some might know him from his most used alias, O.S.T. - under which he has been releasing CDs on Phtalo (the Californian label that discovered Dntel and Sasu Ripatti) since 1998. However, he rarely makes it easy on his listeners, with his off-beat post-techno manoeuvres. Douglas / Dalglish comes from techno, but a kind of techno that is deconstructed piece by piece and built up again - without reading the instructions and consequentially losing some screws in the process. He makes it, of course, via software; there are moments when he seems to be close to “Selected Ambient Works II”-era Aphex Twin or “Confield”-era Autechre (on “1.7.2011”, for example). His modus operandi, however, is closer to that of programmers/musicians like Kit Clayton when he signed with ~scape, Richard Devine piling up crunchy textures instead of rhythms, or the prodigious SND.
“Benacha Drann Deachd” is Dalglish’s second contribution to the Highpoint Lowlife catalogue, after the virtually unknown “OtJohr” (2004) (though perhaps unknown no more; many will be curious now that it’s going to be reissued). Below what seems to be music tailor-made for the Ministry of Tourism of Mordor, lies a bed of melancholy that camouflages the bitterness. Furthermore, a veil of optimism counteracts the poisoned air on these oh-so-abstract tracks with dates for titles. The material on the album is reminiscent of many things, particularly James “Leyland” Kirby – an artist who, like Douglas, has gone through many phases and scenes during his extended stay in electronica, before settling on an isolated place, sad and sometimes impenetrable. “Benacha Drann Beachd” possesses the features of that pessimist hauntology (a kind of impenetrable post-isolationism, rather than a conspiracy of ghosts of the past - but with the same disheartening effect) alongside traces of clicks’n’cuts and a strongly crumbled kind of IDM.
It is a tremendously complex album that many will abandon after the first try (the start, with “25.6.2010”, cosmic and sweet, doesn’t sound like it - but the electro-acoustic interpretation of Mark Fell’s idiom on “8.4.2006” does, whilst the volcanic ambient of “5.8.2001” spits out glitches as if they were burning stones). However, if you keep trying, it grows on you. In a braver world, or maybe on Mars, this would be an instant classic. Here, on the third rock from the sun, we settle for “experimental record of the year”.