G.S. Schray sculpts landscapes. On his latest ambient record, First Appearance, Schray conjures airy vistas of soundwith reverb-laden synthesizers, guitar, horns and who knows what else. The palette is stark, with instruments taking up minimal canvas space. Then, in spurts, wispy ghosts of melody reverberate through the wide-open soundscapes in splashes of technicolor.
“I’ve learned it’s really easy for a bold statement or sound to be obscured by the unnecessary sounds surrounding it,” Schray says, describing his process for recording the album.
“I spend the most amount of recording time editing and taking away elements to bring these hidden things into focus. I really enjoy being surprised and uncovering an element of the recording that takes it into another direction.”
It makes sense, then, that First Appearance is an album of changing colors and melodic surprises.
The opening track, “Gabriel at the Prewindow,” blends a simple piano melody and thin vocoderized gauze with twangy electric guitar to craft an atmosphere reminiscent of Brian Eno and Robert Fripp’s mid-70’s panoramic ambient album Evening Star. A dense fog of reverberated piano occasionally bursts into the clear sky and overtakes the headphones.
Schray’s influences are embedded throughout First Appearance, from the skewed guitar harmonies of Vini Reilly to Tortoise’s post-rock meanderings to Eno’s sweeping synthesizers. Yet First Appearance remains its own unique sound world.
The murky guitars filling out “District Lizards” cut to a hiss before spiking upwards with a bright melodic barb. A space-age synth tone takes a hearty gulp a minute and nine seconds into “In Unsmiling Homage.” A warm daub of horn melody floats into several of the songs, making for a recurring motif that returns in unexpected places. A line of hushed bass stabs in “The Cruel Psychic” pop like miniature soap bubbles and are then washed away by a glittering guitar and xylophone harmony. Or maybe it’s not a xylophone? Part of the fun of First Appearance is listening for the instruments and finding yourself at a loss to identify them, left to ponder over strange, pretty sounds.
The closing track, “Several Wrong Places,” is perhaps the album’s best. Deep, low-end synthesizer globules throb underneath indigo bass splotches and a guitar tone like a big empty field during the golden hour.
Patient listeners will discover a lot to enjoy in First Appearance. These songs aren’t tethered to conventional pop structures. They wander and expand, discovering moments where a melody can ripple or pop or shimmer or smolder. Schray understands how to utilize silence. He has a knack for injecting melody into quiet spaces, like a pipette of multicolored dye being spritzed into a jar of clear water.
Kyle Cochrun is a writer from Akron, Ohio and is currently enrolled in the NEOMFA program for creative writing.