Record Reviews

Mag ? Amplitude

There’s something hermetically sealed about Constant Light, the Melbourne duo of James Dean and Sasha Margolis. Their instrumental forays into experimental pop, drone, and ambient are meticulous and often austere, not seeming to show much interest in the world outside their arcane gear and influences. Sharing tracks via [Bandcamp]( since the start of 2010, the duo has charted a path from minimalism and Steve Reich worship to sleek kosmische grooves and more tangible guitar-pop. Following a swath of free downloads and a sold-out 3? CD-R came the collection Observations/1, which closed with a cover of Suicide’s ?Dream Baby Dream? featuring a rare vocal turn from the band.

Constant Light considers Mag – Amplitude* its debut album, and while it’s not a huge departure from *Observations/1, it is more unified. That’s because nearly half the album’s running time is consumed by the three-part composition ?Dreams of Dreams Denied?. Like the tracks preceding it, that creation is quietly chameleonic, shifting subtly enough that we often only notice the change in scenery once it’s behind us. That combination of hypnotic layering and intuitive variation first surfaces on ?I/O?, which stacks an urgent pulse, looming distortion, and a warm synth sheen until they all seem to be humming in unison. It’s strangely melodic, the more prominent moments of organ and guitar recalling the drone side of Yo La Tengo.

There’s a nice mingling of mechanical coldness and human warmth, and there’s no mistaking the industrial connotations of the following ?Factory Floor?. It’s spooky, with a ticking drum machine and looped synth melody leading to prolonged guitar fuzz and other tense touches. After about eight minutes, certain elements take flight while a jittery network continues to work diligently beneath. The two-minute ?Ice on Glass? then feels like an old synth score, a bit like the stuff John Carpenter dreamed up in his prime. It grows steadily more cosmic, only to fade out before evolving further.

?Dreams of Dreams Denied I? is something else altogether, birthing acoustic guitar from static in a way that nods to Flying Saucer Attack. From there it’s hushed, dreamy atmosphere until things get more dynamic as the second part kicks in. Andre Fazio (YIS) guests on live drums as the track re-imagines instrumental pop as an endless groove. Its third and final transformation incites more ambience and layering, finishing a quest through all of Constant Light’s sweet spots.

There’s a circular nature to what the duo does, with specific themes departing and inevitably recurring. Dean and Margolis are impressive structural architects, seeming to build their compositions inwards and outwards at the same time. The more and more intricate something gets, the more space it’s given to blossom and expand.