Ash Black Buffalo is Jay Clarke, one-fifth of Portland-based rock band Dolorean, producing experimental film and theater-scoring musical works. Modern cinephiles may recognize his name from the recent documentary Marwencol—about a man who gets brain damage from a beating and retreats into a photographic world of toy soldiers—which Clarke scored. But Clarke makes an equally big splash with his debut album as Ash Black Buffalo, Andasol, an incredible piece of work that incorporates amazing collaborations of found and created sound that is at the same time invigorating and haunting.
More often than not, instrumental, film score-style ambient music backgrounds a listener’s activities rather than produces an active listening process. Clarke is able to change that mindset with Andasol. The album opener “Come Back” starts with the rain-like sound of static and the jangle of a coin being dropped into a machine that starts a melodic, video game-style opening door sound. That leads into a heavily echoed voice-over speaking of creating a new language that quickly fades into incredibly calming nighttime strings and crickets. As the song ends, it leaves the listener in what feels like a dark cave. This is totally fine, because the next song, “Misery is the Pilgrim’s Pasture”, runs in and flips on all the light switches with a bouncing choral overdub, dancey hand claps, and a whimsical flute. “Misery” is easily one of the strongest tracks on the album, and when the drums and harpsichord kick in, it will make you feel warm and enlightened.
The next few tracks lead into a dark forest, complete with crickets, frogs, and other comforting night sounds all underlying washing strings and rolling drums. “Suburban Djinn” speeds things back up a touch, and “Buho” takes a slight turn toward a more Asian sound. The most terrifying moment comes near the end of the album with “Heron Lake”. The music starts with dissonant strings, before a garbled, effected, echoed, Tommy Lee Jones-esque voice-over starts. As the voice tells the story of him and his friends popping pills and attacking someone, the swirling strings in the background freeze you and force you to listen in an incredibly chilling way.
Andasol accomplishes something few ambient albums can: It holds the listener’s attention. By the end of the album, you come out on the other side a little disoriented but certainly involved. Andasol is a memorable experience, and one that is a must for a late night in the country darkness.
Essential Tracks: “Heron Lake”, “Misery is the Pilgrim’s Pasture”, “Suburban Djinn”