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Review: Passive Witnesses – Aerials

Music as a whole can cover a vast array of emotions and thoughts at any given moment, but some genres are tailor-made for certain feelings straight away. Metal is an inherently angry genre, pop is inherently happy and upbeat, emo is inherently depressed, et cetera. Obviously this varies from artist to artist, but in a general sense most can agree that some kinds of music just have a predilection towards specific sentiments.

In the case of post-rock, a frequently misunderstood merging of progressive rock, shoegaze, ambient textures, and minimalism, there’s often an overwhelming sense of existential dread, ennui, and malaise. It’s no coincidence then, as venues continue to remain shuttered and a second lockdown feels almost inevitable, that the genre has developed a more major presence throughout New England, via acts like Circus Trees and Pray For Sound. All acts that specialize in expressing pure, unfettered alienation through their material.

Passive Witnesses is the latest addition to this still-growing scene. A collaboration between multi-instrumentalist Christopher G. Brown (Ease Into The Noise / Vary Lumar / The Difference Engine), and singer/songwriter Clinton Degan (Beauty Is The End / Body English), one which extends all the way from Boston to Derry, NH. The duo has only just formed this year under the shadow of quarantine, trading audio back and forth electronically, but their world-weary and distinctly melancholic sound belies a production team with decades of experience together.

Their debut release, Aerials has landed at the beginning of November, on the heels of an incredibly contentious presidential election, one filled with tumult and unsettling disquiet, to pile atop the already uneasy year we’ve been collectively suffering through. Although Aerials has no obvious political slant, (Or at least not one that can be easily discerned through the record’s abstract lyricism.) it feels like a record perfectly timed to the weariness of current affairs. And it doesn’t need to accomplish it through any sort of direct commentary, but by the fundamentally gloomy atmosphere the duo crafts.

Against a backdrop of hazy textures, reverberated synths, the occasional ambient guitar flourish, and haunting, echoing vocals, Passive Witnesses weave a mournful, disconsolate web of sound. Aerials is every bit as much a piece of atmospheric experimentation as it is a production of contemporary music, one which utilizes all the best aesthetics and sensibilities of each member. Clinton Degan’s syrupy smooth, warm vocal croon only compliments the cold, mechanical climate of electronic landscapes generated by Christopher G. Brown. It’s less of a statement than a reflection of our cold, uncaring modern world, and even though the record only clocks in at just over a half-hour, it’s one filled with expansive journeys and reveries into post-rock perfection, one that would please even the pickiest of Sigur Ros sad-bois.

FFO: Sigur Ros, Kid A-era Radiohead, Tangerine Dream, Explosions In The Sky, Pray For Sound

Key Track: “Cape Ann Garrison”

– Lilz Martin

Featured photo by Danielle Brown