I say this with no reservation: Steve Hauschildt is one of the most creatively generous artists working in electronic music today. His work is utterly timeless, unmoored from trends and familiar signposts alike. On his latest album, Strands, he seamlessly blends the entire spectrum of dreamy synthesizer music into a breathless futuristic rush.
His time in the groundbreaking psych-synth band Emeralds showed incredible promise, but in retrospect those years seem like a mere prelude to the art he’s released on his own. Detached from the demands of a three-piece unit, he’s expanded his palette, explored new structures, and reached deep into the cosmic abyss; that is to say, he’s much further out there, on his own.
His last album, Where All Is Fled, was both a best of 2015 release and a prominent part of the 32 Best Ambient Albums Ever Made. It looked at the synth world through a pan-genre kaleidoscope, approaching the sound from every angle. Its sprawling multitude of tracks allowed for a variety of styles and textures, bringing Hauschildt’s craft to new spaces on a song by song basis. While lacking a thematic glue, the album was packed with plenty of distinct highlights.
Strands feels like a bold move in the opposite direction, a light surprise in a year full of predictable darkness. Flowing like a singular river cross nine tracks, the album is an unyielding force of synthesized nature. This is astonishingly cohesive music despite its textural depth and virtuosic musicianship.
The album pulses with huge washes of ambient synths, intricately decaying melodies, twinkling arpeggios, and an arsenal of quietly eruptive rhythm programming. It ensconces me in a wind tunnel’s worth of cozy atmosphere, but keeps me on my toes with constantly shifting textures and production flourishes. This intricate dance plays out across forty minutes that seem to dilate time before disappearing completely.
Many of the individual components of this sound are recognizable: clipped, metallic pads swell up, yearning pianos echo across oceans of reverb, and fat analog synthesizer chords make the hair on my neck stand up. Many are not, including brittle washes of distortion and icy beat stretches. These pieces are mixed with a newfound sense of nuance, a hyperactive attention to the granular experience of the sound on the ears. The greatest accomplishment of Strands is that it meshes sweeping, big-picture sentiment with obsessive moment-to-moment detail.
I was kind of excited to learn what Hauschildt had to say about the album, in a quote provided by the record label. He was talking about the formative ideas behind Strands, before going on to describe something a little more personal.
He said, “I was also inspired by the movement of rivers, particularly their transformative aspect and how they’re in a state of flux and change, in particular the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland where I live, which notoriously caught on fire thirteen times because of industrial pollution in the 1960s and before. I was very interested in the dichotomy of oil and water and the resulting, unnatural symptoms of human industry. It’s a very personal record for me as it is a reflection of my hometown where I grew up and where it was mostly recorded.”
I smiled, recognizing this as exactly how Strands felt at first blush. It’s a weird, beautiful, damaged, but ultimately hopeful experience. As the artist himself said, this is “where life slowly reemerges through desolation, so it has a layer of optimism looming underneath.”
Hear it for yourself. Here’s the title track.
You can preorder the album right from the label, Kranky. Strands drops October 28, 2016.
Release day update: Strands is now streaming on Spotify.