3 out of 5
Label: Hydra Head Records
Produced by: Tuomas Laurila, Mika Rättö
There’s something gorgeous and driving at the edges of Circle’s expansive collection of atmospheric tracks, Miljard. Not familiar with – and quite intimidated by – the group’s broad catalogue, I’ve dipped enough into reviews and biographies to understand that that intimidation is kinda sorta warranted, given how much genre experimentation the band hasn’t gotten up to over the years; the major opinion – for those pleased by Miljard or not – is that it’s not necessarily the place to start. But that’s okay: we’ll listen to this not as an introduction to Circle, but as a standalone piece; and while it sounds like it’s not “representative” of larger patterns in the band’s output, I don’t think it’s a bad place to start, as long as you’re aware of what style of music it is. Reading a few lines of description that suggest throwing away any expectations of guitar, bass, or drum riffing and seeing a tag like “ambient” should be enough; the wintry, black and white photography of the album art can add more. And often music of this breed comes with a learning curve, but Miljard is actually quite surprising to that effect: the only thing really hampering the experience is that its middle section is very repetitive, but this isn’t a killer because its twinkling of keys and lullingly looped rhythm is quite charming. The occasional ominous twangs or nature noises sprinkled in help to keep it warm, and promising of something just around the corner… even if you don’t really turn the corner until near the end.
Both the start and finish of Miljard are comparatively stunning, though, given a little extra oomph over the themes in its midsection and layers and layers of atmosphere, emotion oozing between exciting ebbs and flows of the instrumentation at work. Each of the 20-minute exercises on either side of the album hint at the less engrossing material to come, though, as that runtime allows things to taper off beyond logical conclusions, tracks tiptoeing into the same pretty-but-tedious playing found elsewhere. What’s unfortunate is that this could have been “solved” simply by excising half those tracks inbetween. I’m sure sharper ears than mine own can pick out differences to warrant the material, but if the section between beginning and end had been trimmed down to another 20-or-so minute single song, this whole thing could’ve been an astounding performance. That said, Miljard is an easier sell than many ambient works, that require forcing a less-willing listener to sit with the whole thing, sometimes several times over, to have the spell cast; here, the opening material is so strong, that by the time the spell starts to wane, you’re pleased enough by the key plunking and daintiness to coast to the equally strong conclusion.
I might have different opinions on the digital / CD version, with the experience unbroken by flipping the LP over, but this review is for the Hydra Head vinyl edition.