Steve Roach's Rest of Life Echoes March CD of the Month
by John Diliberto 02/27/2023
It takes a certain sensibility to create and perform music that moves at a pace that makes glaciers seem like rockets. Patience and a meticulous eye for deeply embedded detail are what’s required, rather than technique and flashy changes. Steve Roach has had that all along and you hear it in music like The Magnificent Void, Stillpoint and Quiet Music. And of course, you hear it in Structures from Silence. You won’t be wrong hearing echoes of that 1984 classic in Roach’s latest album, Rest of Life. Long synth pad chords arc slowly in a grand spectral dance of balletic giants. But right from the start there’s another element, perhaps a bit unsettling. Space echoes murmur at the edges, descending and rising like alien creatures casting luminescent patterns on the opening track, “Sit with Me.” At 7:50, it’s the shortest track and a gateway into the expanse of Rest of Life.
You won’t find any of the analog modular synthesizer wizardry that Roach has been exploring for the last decade. Instead, he returns to his ’80s arsenal including the Oberheim Xpander, Oberheim Ob-X8 and Solina String Synth. This was the sound of Structures. Layered and looping, chords waft through each other, transforming in languid pirouettes. On the title piece, the first long-form track, you feel like you’re gently moving through rooms that are translucent and interlocked, curved catacombs of mysterious hallucinations. This is the music of a dream state or deep psychedelic contemplation. This music exists not on a dance floor scale but on a cosmic swirling-in-slow-motion scale.
Floating through the slow, breath-like gasps of “Softly Spoken, Deeply Heard,” I imagined this is what the universe sounds and feels like to the Space Guild Navigators of Dune, threading their way through folded space, connecting galaxies.
“Stream of Forever” is the most active piece on the album, which isn’t saying much in terms of activity. It has the faintest of pulses and a return of that descending-ascending gurgle in track one. Stealthily, a gentle, ping-ponging melody emerges, carrying you through its 16-minute duration.
The second disc of the album is taken up by “The Knowing Place.” It’s a single, hour-long track, which is why it has its own disc. While much of the first disc uses a similar timbral palette on every song, “The Knowing Place” goes into a deeper, darker sound, moving in deep bass and string tones. Bathed in reverb and processing, you might think the strings are electronic, but , it’s actually Roach’s wife, Linda Kohanov. She’s been taking some time out of the saddle of her horses and been sitting down with her electric-viola. Using a Boomerang looper, she layers sensuous lines into repeating cycle, often transposing down into the cello range, giving “The Knowing Place” a shrouded undertow.
This is a darker, more melancholy track than the other disc. About 36-minutes in, it morphs into a swirling pool of glissando sounds cascading down from liquid dark skies. No sooner are you awash in it all, that a long, deep synth chord wipes it away almost to silence. But now there are still 21-minutes to go, as the track slowly dissipates with stretched chord sequences, again, echoing Structures from Silence.
You don’t listen to a Steve Roach album like this as much as immerse yourself in its undulating, organic manipulations. You could take Rest of Life as a drifty ambient soundscape or you could dig deeper into it’s layers and slow evolution while also casting your eyes out further into its epic expanse.