Free Diving (Ethereal)
Much to the credit of its title, Free Diving, the new album from Roman Pavlov aka Ethereal Pilgrim is just that: an extended, placid, lilting descent from a more vertical vantage point into ever increasing layers of deep blue chill-out psychedelia. The foreign worlds Pavlov creates across the 71 minutes of Free Diving’s fluid event horizon are both technically well-crafted and sonically pleasing, and taken as a whole comprise a hopeful, organic record that plays well both in the background and in your headphones.
Allusions to water, the ocean, and the fluid movement of both mass and energy are likely to color most descriptions of the contents of Free Diving, and not just given the album’s title and song names such as “In Pacific Ocean”, “Breathe Underwater”, and “Touch of Blue Light”. The music is as hazy as sea fog and as gently swelling as a far-off breaker seen through a pane of stained glass. Each track herein is a type of journey in itself (no song clocks at under 5:00), and best taken in a dimly yet warmly lit room. There are hints of a lot of things going on here, from the emotionally-charged electro-chill of Enigma and perhaps Bjork, to the ambient worlds of Robert Rich, Brian Eno and a host of ambient knob twiddlers, to the dreamier side of Moby and current chill-wave darlings Washed Out, and even some hints here and there of the luscious, dreamy melancholia that characterizes some of This Mortal Coil’s more ethereal work. Though there’s not any one influence that strongly comes to mind, and in keeping with the album’s general arc, notions and recollections tend to filter to the surface with a type of languid fluidity.
What Ethereal Pilgrim gives us here is an extended meditation. It’s spacey, fluid, watery, soundtrackish, dramatic, choral, warm, spiritualized, blissful, hopeful, and a lot of other similarly-charged adjectives. In yet another oceanic alliteration, the overall scope of Pavlov’s work here is as expansive as the look and feel of water, space, or openness in all four directions, and a full listen to the contents herein is likely to induce similar feelings of easy, floating aimlessness. And it would seem that the aimlessness, as some sage once said (probably), is the whole point.
Pavlov’s piano playing is adept, downplayed, and meshes well with the airy sweeps, pads, and vocal tracks across the album. The songs tend to ebb and flow, with enough movement to keep things interesting across an entire track and not get totally buried underneath the sonic swells. Everything is mixed well overall. The recurrent female vocal tracks are really smooth and beautiful and would give Enya a run for her money (though thankfully the music is not so unpalatable). The underlying beat structures are interesting and unobtrusive, as evidenced on tracks such as “Breathe Underwater”, “Ganymede”, “K’ank’in”, and album opener “In Pacific Ocean (Ethereal)”. The opening salvo/trio of the three “ethereal” tracks (“In Pacific Ocean”, “Breathe Underwater”, and “Flying in the Deep Blue”) are quite nice, and work well as a group. Other album stand-outs are “Son of the Sun” and “Siren (Ethereal)”.
As the album spins on, one piece of criticism that could be leveled towards Pavlov’s terrestrial starscapes might be the dawning feeling that in moving forward, we just might have been here before…in crafting the often seamless and sealed landmarks that dot Free Diving’s elysian fields, one begins to sense a pattern emerging through the smoke and haze, and there’s a wish that more attention could have been paid to the amorphous spaces and interstices between the record’s bliss-tempo futuristics, allowing for a bit more of the ambient to emerge from what is at core a really great chill-out/downtempo record. There’s room in the margins of Ethereal Pilgrim’s sound to successfully elevate the music to another level by distancing out the pretty moments in order to create more anticipation and the kind of open space that the music seems to be yearning towards, as the one sticking point of Free Diving could be the homogeneity that starts to creep in by the album’s close. Though it’s probably worth noting that opinions are more often than not simply self-motivated suggestions, a thought here is to expand the frontiers by scaling back a bit, ala the more alluvial aspects of the collaborations between Eno and Budd.
As stated in his bio, Pavlov’s musical output was preceded by a type of “spiritual awakening”, which would seem to shine through here at various points and perhaps lends a deeper quality overall that is felt as well as heard. Ethereal Pilgrim’s music is just as well suited to slow-motion nature films and wide panning shots over hopelessly breathtaking natural vistas as it is for the late night chill-out session; in fact, the fusing of the two elements here is one of the album’s stand-out points. Free Diving manages to enmesh a pervasive, meditative element into a genre that sometimes tries a little too hard to hit just the right mix of cool and in the meantime misses the larger point. Free Diving’s progenitor obviously has some stars in his eyes, and more the better for we listeners. This is music to dream to.
Review by: Reed Burnam