LFour years after Being No One, Going Nowhere and 2020’s Future Past Life, Portland-based band STRFKR (Josh Hodges, Keil Corcoran, Shawn Glassford) are back with a new album called Ambient 1 which is out now via Polyvinyl Record. According to the press release, it drifts through softly glowing electronic instrumentals that extract the synth core from the group’s well established synth pop sound. It’s patient, playful, and calming music that travels through passageways of chaos and anxiety on a journey towards healing..
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The inspirations for Ambient 1 were as amorphous as the album itself. Upon completing work on the lo-fi dreaminess of Future Past Life, STRFKR’s principal songwriter Josh Hodges found himself returning repeatedly to albums by his favorite ambient artists and minimal composers. This happened in correlation with stumbling into a wealth of new age cassettes at an estate sale and a time in Joshua Tree spent excitedly experimenting with a friend’s vintage Prophet 5 synthesizer. This growing obsession with synthesis and the culture around it also concurred with the daily darkness of the pandemic and some personal disruptions. Without spending too much time thinking about what it meant, Hodges began recording ambient experiments almost daily as a way of processing these difficult emotions. The music flowed intuitively, and arrived almost fully formed. Songs took various forms despite their spacious arrangements. Echoes of masters like Harold Budd and Brian Eno can be heard in the angelic floating of “Work Smoothly Lifetime Peace” while tracks like “Nexus” are stormy and frenetic. Slow motion glacial drones melt into trance-inducing rhythmic patterns on “Concentrate” and throughout the album hardware synth tones bounce across the stereo field, gelling together for a listening experience that’s meditative and enveloping.
In some ways, Ambient 1 is unlike anything STRFKR has created before, but when completely absorbed, it makes sense why it’s included under the STRFKR banner. Even at his most drony and experimental, Hodges can’t escape his distinctive melodic approach. There are no vocals, no traditional song structures, almost nothing resembling the addictive pop the band is known for, but deep listening reveals a more deconstructed manifestation of STRFKR’s meticulously crafted sound. Ambient 1 strips away the familiar and the expected, exposing Hodges’ signature sonic personality at a granular level.