Alternative Matter Review – All Around Me by Bob Ohrum

April 2012

I have taken my time in consuming this release because it was released on John Koch-Northrup’s Relaxed Machinery and their content, to date, has been first class.

I say I have taken my time because my initial reaction to All Around Me was how noisy it was. I love drones and use them as an escape from the world around me… they provide me with the degree of noise cancellation that I need to think and create. Unfortunately, there are tracks on this album that have their foundations on white noise… the opening track – “Last Breath Before” – is a prime example of this… if it weren’t for the subtle drones and repeating bell motif… I would have skipped the track. The background noise sounds like a recording of an audio tape recording of crickets having a shower in a waterfall.

I am glad I kept going because near the end the most sublime guitar is presented… it is truly the most rewarding feeling to hear that guitar… so beautiful.

Similarly, the fourth track – “The Mess (You Left)” – has an undercurrent of noise that complements the incoherent chatter that is presented… to create a disorientating and quite disconcerting soundscape. The drone that is added to bring balance, whilst not quite achieving its intention, is in itself delightful but it loses out to the incessant hum and whine of the noise.

Whereas the second track isn’t noisy… in fact “For Dan (Excerpt)” is a deliciously dark drone that builds in intensity and implied malevolence… before morphing into a lighter, brighter soundscape. The highlight, for me, comes around the 11 minute mark where a new, vibrant drone appears to take the track to fruition.

The last two tracks are different… with their foundations in the field: The third track – “Overpass Symphony #2 (All Around Me)” – is based on a recording of falling rain landing in a drain or ditch… this recording moves from the foreground to the background and sits there… like the victim of a shower on such a sodden evening… whilst subtle drones appear and dissonant sounds ebb and flow in and out of the listener’s conscious. Whilst not for someone with a full bladder, this is a delightful track that warrants repeated listens.

Whereas, the fifth and final track – “Beauty In The Aftermath” – features the chirp of birds and the subtle, random tings of wind-chimes. It is a most delightful field recording which does a splendid job in underpinning the drones and the most gorgeous guitar near the end of the track. Seriously, the guitar solo is truly divine… which is a shame really because I was left wanting more.

I don’t want to criticise this release on the awesome Relaxed Machinery label… and am reminded of Ego’s monologue at the end of “Ratatouille”…

“…in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”

Its just that it could have been so much more… Ohrum’s guitar playing is exquisite… and both his drones and his field recordings are lovely… but the noise was a distraction for me and could have acted as a barrier to entry. I am glad I gave it a thorough listen because I caught glimpses of real genius that I would have missed if I had otherwise been easily dismissive.

All in… All Around Me by Bob Ohrum wasn’t an easy listen but it does reward the effort of closer examination.