IN SUMMER by Jefre Cantu-Ledesma
Genre: Noise, Ambient
Favorite Tracks: “Love’s Refrain,” “Little Dear Isle”
His album A YEAR WITH 13 MOONS having clinched our number nine spot for the top albums of 2015, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma is a household name around these parts. Quite prolific and intimately involved with the Northern California art scene, Cantu-Ledesma is a master of a noisy brand of ambient with a focus on washed-out waves of sound that seem to come from the borderline of a dream state. An appealing introduction to more esoteric forms of music, Cantu-Ledesma doesn’t tarnish his legacy with IN SUMMER, but the scattershot compilation method (he admits on the cover that the pieces were recorded sporadically, and that the album is best thought of as a collection of snapshots), periodic rough transitions, and a seeming undesire to branch out of his comfort zone make for something unfortunately forgettable.
Considering that he literally references it on the cover, it’s no secret that Cantu-Ledesma’s work has always revolved around the mires of recollection and memory, with snippets of songs and melodies emerging from the vast expanse of vague and indiscriminate noise (time). However, by taking our hand and leading us to this conclusion, IN SUMMER is already operating on a plane of forced, intentional nostalgia, giving the whole thing a rather unsavory and, dare I say it, “cheap” intimation. Summer does seem to be the preferred season of sad sacks everywhere, as it inherently holds the most golden, sun-soaked memories of childlike jouissance, but the added instructions by Cantu-Ledesma now virtually ensures that the listener is practically locked into only engaging with the album in a singular way, which is the death toll of ambient, drone, and noise music.
Musically, IN SUMMER is a bit more accessible than Cantu-Ledesma’s more recent efforts, with the opening of “Love’s Refrain” triggering immediate recollections of the early works of Neon Indian. This opening cut proves to be the highlight of the album, as it’s initially refreshing to hear Cantu-Ledesma more clearly condense his penchant for subtle beauty into a distinctly delineated line. However, although it’s more forgivable here than on later tracks, Cantu-Ledesma seems to have missed the memo regarding intra-track cohesion, as when the track dips into the more traditionalist well of Cantu-Ledesma’s studio trickery, it entirely forgets that it started out as a completely different song. However, at least for this cut, Cantu-Ledesma manages to return to what he does best: subtle, understated buildups that steadily progress into an ecstasy of noise out of nowhere, like a flower blossoming in hyperspeed.
The jarring stop-starts continue to rear their heads on “In Summer,” which features a pleasant choral melody quietly murmuring in the background before abruptly becoming an indiscriminate avant-noise affair that sounds like amplified lowercase. Even more disappointing is the closing track “Prelude,” which at first introduces a welcome dash of chaotic, Japanoise flair before becoming a melancholic piano dirge comparable to 夕方の犬. Firmly in the middle is “Blue Nudes (I-IV),” which somewhat challenges the IN SUMMER formula by making use of an organic bass, but doesn’t introduce anything new until well after the five-minute mark, establishing itself as a rather uninteresting photograph for Cantu-Ledesma to hone in on to such a degree. As such, “Little Dear Isle” becomes another highlight of the album, as here Cantu-Ledesma is content to keep the beauty the track contains almost entirely obscured, floating along melancholically in the background behind the requisite crackles and scratches, which is truly what memory of the past is akin to.
Considering the rate of his output, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma will soon almost entirely erase any memory of IN SUMMER, which is of small comfort. For a man who’s created such beautiful music in the past, this obvious of an effort is a large step backwards. It’s fundamentally pleasant, but doesn’t challenge either the performer or the listener. I suppose it’s an adequate introduction to this kind of music for the lowest common denominator, but c’mon, this is a Jefre Cantu-Ledesma album — only those with a knowledge of inside baseball are reading this anyway.