Aukai's Game Trails Echoes July CD of the Month
By John Diliberto
Despite the turmoil, insanity and losses of 2020 there has been music released that floats above the maelstrom with refined emotional sensibilities, delicately articulated moods and uplifting melodies. Notably, most of it was recorded before pandemic: AVAWaves Waves, Blue Landscapes’ Frontiers, Agnes Obel’s Myopia, and Kevin Braheny Fortune’s Dreamwalker Meditation Music albums come to mind. Add Aukai’s Game Trails to that list.
Aukai is the project of East German-born Markus Sieber. From the eponymous Aukai debut in 2016, also a CD of the Month, Aukai’s delicately-honed approach to music making has been breathtaking. You already knew that sound was there with the duo, Mirabai Ceiba, with his partner, pianist, harpist and singer Angelika Baumbach. She’s also all over the music of Aukai.
With Game Trails, Sieber continues crafting his ambient chamber world fusion sound that is centered by the cyclical motifs he plays on the ronroco, a relative of the charango and the favorite stringed instrument of film composer Gustavo Santaolalla. This South American instrument has a fragile, wistful sound that begs for contemplation.
On Game Trails, Aukai takes a few different approaches from earlier albums. His music has always had an ambient feel, but with Game Trails he brings in some discreet electronics from Jamshied Sharifi and Alexander Nickmann. On “Waves”, Sieber deploys a sliding, growling bass synthesizer line under the delicate melody. “Akal Ki” and “Gloria” bring in electronic percussion and synth pads, in not-quite downtempo grooves that, nevertheless, fit right in with Aukai’s web-like fragility. It just drives it with a little more rhythm. On the perhaps inappropriately titled “Solace”, they really pump up the energy with a fuzz bass line, but even here, the intricate interplay between ronroco and Angelika Baumbach’s harp and the droning strings, isn’t lost.
He also gives a lot of space to Anne Müller, the go-to German cellist for new music heard on albums by Nils Frahm, Agnes Obel and Ane Brun. She’s all over tracks like “Soplo de Sueño,” with long sweeping arcs against keyboard accents and ronroco arpeggios. It’s the most neo-classical track on the album.
There’s a mystery to a lot of Game Trails. On “Afternoon Moon,” the ronroco and cello navigate through long, hushed breaths like you might hear in a haunted house movie, making this track one of the darker ones on an album that seems to be mostly suffused by reflected light.
Aukai is making a rarefied music that traverses world fusion, neo-classical, folk, and with this album, a bit of electronic music, all through feather-on-the-breath-of-God melodies. Sieber’s compositions, with nuanced, layered arrangements from Sharifi, shimmer like summer light glancing off a pond, refracting the world around it in a prismatic, enveloping image. It makes sense for a sound inspired by the trails of animals through the wilds, hence the name, Game Trails. Some of this music, like “Rekindle,” was actually composed on a camping trip. If you can’t get out, put on Aukai’s Game Trails on, and watch landscapes unfold.