M. J. Harris & Martyn Bates - _Murder Ballads (Passages)_
(Musica Maxima Magnetica, 1997)
by: Andrew Lewandowski (8 out of 10)
Although it may not seem like the most novel of ideas, this collaboration between Mick Harris and Martyn Bates is one of the first isolationist ambient projects to feature lyrical vocals. While Harris wafts ethereal drones and distant, yet disturbing, rumblings through the air, Bates softly whispers folk tales of murder in a silken English accent which augments Harris' ambiance. The two seemingly incompatible elements of folk singing and dark ambiance coalesce congruously as both provide an archaic, nebulous delineation of a human incarcerated in the repetitive, despondent world of the dark ages. Bates' haunting vocals arise from the background ambiance as the music's definite focal point. The addition of vocals injects a human presence in a genre which, by definition, eschews such an overt inclusion of man in the music, for the artist translates his psyche into the ambiance and allows the listener to imbue the music with its emotional content through subjective interpretation. Every emotive aspect becomes explicit due to the vocals and lyrics, which overtly (two examples: the chorus of "all alone and so lonely" in "The Cruel Mother" or "her bleeding, mangled body lay beneath the red barn floor" from "The Murder of Maria Marten") deal with topics generally evinced within the music itself. The inclusion of vocals is a novel idea, but you can call me conservative, for Bates' vocals sever the album's connection to the ambient genre, and the music is too distinctly ambient to succeed at any other level. As an ambient work, this is one of Harris' best works to date.

(article published 1/1/1998)

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