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Pieter Nooten - Surround Us

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 31 / 7 / 2012

Pieter Nooten - Surround Us
Label: Rocket Girl
Format: CD


Evocative latest album from Dutch ambient artist Pieter Nooten which, despite being recorded using mainly just a computer and synthesiser, proves to be one of the the most beautifully produced, sensitive and tuneful albums of the year

If ever there was a genre that’s likely to turn people away before they’ve even heard a sound it’s that of ambient music. If you’re not in the right frame of mind then the word ‘boring’ comes easily to mind. Although often unfairly classed as ambient, the work of Pieter Nooten can never be dismissed as boring. Dutch born Nooten first came to notice in the mid-eighties as part of Clan Of Xymox, releasing a clutch of albums on 4AD, which at the time seemed to be the perfect home for their atmospheric music. But Nooten’s best known work from this period is probably the collaboration he made with Michael Brook, ‘Sleeps With Fishes’, which was also released on 4AD and was labeled, quite rightly, as a "soundtrack to heaven" by one of the leading music weeklies back then. Since then Nooten has released a number of albums under his own name> His last album, 2010’s ‘Here Is Why’ collecting some very good reviews, and showed his skill as a producer for other artists. ‘Surround Us’, Nooten’s latest work, was produced completely using a Mac Book Pro and Midi keyboard and no other instruments were used except for Lucas Stam’s impro. cello, which adds so much texture to the tracks it is featured on and really plays a major part on ‘Surround Us’. So, an ambient, electronic album has just got to sound soulless, devoid of any emotion and boring hasn’t it? It’s hardly an album that you’d go out of your way to hear, but if you don’t then you are going to miss out on one of the most beautifully produced, sensitive and tuneful albums of the year. Nooten, unlike so many of his contemporaries, still composes songs that have a tune and it’s this, along with his ability to always keep his music interesting by using guest vocalists and not being afraid to experiment while never losing sight of a melody that keeps him on top of this genre. In fact, while it can’t be denied that the sounds Nooten produces should be classed with the electronic/ambient brigade, he should almost be in a class of his own as he is one of the few ambient artists who will appeal to a much wider audience than his contemporaries will. The album opens with ‘Ode’, and the mournful sounds of Stam’s cello immediately shut out whatever is happening around you and introduce you slowly to Nooten’s sad, mysterious but strangely calming world. The sadness expressed by not only Stam’s cello but by the electronic sounds that Nooten produces surprisingly emits a feeling of warmth that is a feature of all the tracks on ‘Surround Us’. There are ‘almost’ straightforward pop songs on this album, ‘Anybody’, where lyricist Renee Stahl takes lead vocals, while not totally abandoning Nooten’s ambient leanings, is the type of song you just know that artists like Enya would love to have written. It’s also another of the factors that keep Nooten’s work interesting and a cut above the rest. Using the talents of outside vocalists doesn’t just add texture and other dimensions to his songs, it makes them more instantly accessible and attractive to those who would normally give ambient/electronica a wide berth. As beautiful as those guest vocalists can be though it’s amazing that instrumentals such as ‘An End’ that were composed and produced on a computer have such warmth, depth and can actually convey emotion. Being instrumental it will be interpreted differently by each listener but to these ears memories of melancholic rainy days always come to mind. Every track is worthy of mention. ‘This World’ is another song featuring vocals, this time by Susan Bauszat, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a later Cocteau Twins album. Again it’s a stunning piece of work and worth the price of the album alone. Nooten can not be accused of writing the same song twice, although this album is a mixture of instrumentals, vocals and spoken word tracks, there is not one song that sounds remotely similar to another. ‘Secret Room’, a spoken word piece is particularly affecting, unsettling almost, with chilling vocals by ‘Lisa’ but even that doesn’t prepare you for another spoken word track, ‘Blue Square’. On this particular piece Nooten pulls out all the special effects and while at times it does sail close to some of the more weird Yazoo album tracks, it’s another affecting piece of music which will hold your attention for all of its seven-plus minutes. Repetitive it may be but it’s also hauntingly addictive and soothing. You’ll hear nothing else like it this year, that’s for sure. ‘Surround Us’ is in a word a masterpiece.

Track Listing:-
1 Ode
2 Anybody
3 An End
4 Soothing Dust
5 Drone
6 This World
7 Blue Wonder
8 Around Us
9 Secret Room
10 Romanz
11 Blue Square
12 Dutch Clouds

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