CRAIG PADILLA & MARVIN ALLEN, Toward the Horizon
As I’ve been immersing in the seemingly endless riches of the three decade-plus Spotted Peccary catalog, I’m enjoying a wild fusion of sonic landscapes and artists whose music the label describes as everything from deep drone and chillout to ambient electronic, Classic Berlin-School, Ethereal Atmospheric and Spacemusic Rock, among other progressive concepts. One of the most compelling artists catching my ear from the 2000s on is composer and electronic music veteran Craig Padilla, whose 40-some releases include six on the label since 2006, including two with labelmate Howard Givens.
His latest perfectly titled aural adventure Toward the Horizon is comprised of six pieces (ranging from four and a half minutes to almost 18!) of various moods, rhythmic pulses and vibrational frequencies created via synthesizers and guitars. What sets it apart in his vast and always evolving catalog is the fact that it began life as something of a musical experiment, combining one of the ambient genre’s true legendary figures (Padilla) with Marvin Allen, an artist new to the ambient word whose guitar melodies and modulations are perfectly passionate, soaring and soulful fits for this genre.
For fans of Padilla and the genre itself, a little intro information is necessary. Allen is a Northern California based multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter performer and music educator who has worked behind the scenes for years, doing sessions and creating jingles and short film soundtracks.
Padilla and Allen have known each other since 1990, and their at long last fulfilled desire to work together results in a seamless, effortless interaction. They create an endlessly fascinating, richly textured exploration that hums, whirs, rolls and throbs along like the musical equivalent of the mists and clouds the lonely but well-equipped traveler on the CD cover. Padilla says they began by riding the waves of inspiration and following their dual creativity to see where it would lead them. For a first timer, Allen was thrilled that not only was it a creatively fulfilling exercise driven by great chemistry, but also great fun working with his friend.
Allen elaborates that eight hours after her and Padilla started their first session, they had accumulated most of the ideas that would eventually become the opening 17- minute title track “Toward the Horizon.” The piece opens with Allen’s sparse, languid guitar strum before Padilla washes in with deep space echoing atmospheres which later come to include busy synthesized space and nature sounds, intense pulsating rhythms and Allen’s raucous electric guitars. Once we’ve accepted their invitation and traveled towards that horizon, the duo greets us with quite a few water-related themes, starting with the enchanting, hypnotic, Eastern flavored meditational dreamscape “Distant Waves.”
The most offbeat track is the 13 minute “Tidal Disruption,” a dark, chaotic rumination full of quick pulses, lonesome guitar strums and increasingly frenetic banging, bell ringing and synth percussion. A bit over halfway through, the duo goes disco rock on us, with Allen’s raging rock guitar blistering over Padilla’s bouncy beats.
Everything stops as they head into the murky depths “Beneath the Surface,” an immersive submersion that caresses our senses like the soundtrack to a deep-sea exploration teeming with bits of life and shards of sunlight, but mostly dark waters. They submerge even further down and find more crazy chaos below, merging sea sounds with celestial callings that combine to create a world that’s somehow above and below at the same time.
The two further develop that duality on the relatively brief (four and a half minute) closer “Liquid Heaven,” a moody wall of hypnosis that makes one think of two early Spielberg films. The shark from “Jaws” can float silently but purposefully through the heavy blue, while the aliens from “Close Encounters” might make their mysterious visit using the dreamier side of the duo’s piece. Perhaps the coolest part of a project like this is that it ends out in space, or in the same depths, where it began, almost like the cyclical reality of life itself.