Ulaan Khol

Ulaan Khol

Ulaan Khol

I

Soft Abuse

Of all the members of San Francisco’s Jewelled Antler folk/ambient/noise collective, Steven R. Smith’s cascading array of projects are the most fascinating. Whether it be mining the theoretical sounds of a field recording of the Middle Ages with Thuja or exploring alien soundscapes under his own name, he’s nothing if not willing to move wherever his muse draws him. Now, under the guise of Ulaan Khol, Smith’s set his aim on space rock. I, like so much of the heavier psychedelic post-rock channeled by the likes of Kinski and Paik, is built primarily around drones and slow oscillations of guitar feedback, like the soundtrack of an astral ballet lasting thousands of years. Where Smith distinguishes himself is the method which which he arranges the score. There’s less of a focus on full-band jamming on here — although track two rocks to full-effect and is led by a very sturdy rhythm section — and more of a continuous ease through ether. With fewer opportunities for bass and drums to chew into the drones, Smith lets pinpricks of clarity shine through, like melodies surfacing out from under the watery reverb, which themselves eventually elongate to join the icy sheen. For all of his exploring, Smith keeps his pieces within a manageable time frame and doesn’t let them stray beyond the limits of interest. He’s wise enough to add a change in texture, direction, or instrumentation — the introduction of a simple acoustic guitar strum to the final minute of track six is a genius foil to the song’s electric guitar effects — to stave off any potential lugubriousness, which is especially important considering the genre traditionally revolves around heavy-handedness.

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