Back in the 90s, during that era’s heyday of new age and ambient music, the Higher Octave label released popular recordings from numerous still active legendary rock stars showcasing the mellower and often deeper sides of their artistry. Though Carlos Dengler may not be as famous as Starship’s Craig Chaquico, Journey’s Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain and Yes’ Jon Anderson, there’s still an exciting parallel to be drawn when we trace the fast-emerging multi-instrumentalist’s musical evolution from bassist in post punk revival darlings Interpol from 1997 to 2010 to celebrated genre artist.
Dengler’s back-to-back 2022 debut recordings Aqueduct and Ecospheres received rave reviews, airplay on Sirius/XM’s Spa and support from Chuck van Zyl/STAR’S END, NPR’s Tones & Drones Podcast with Jason Miller, One World Music Radio and The Morning Breeze. He builds on this new career momentum with his first full length album Private Earth, an intimate, richly textured experience and exploration rooted in his longtime fascination with nature previously expressed via photography, backpacking and a passion for naturalism.
Featuring haunting mystical atmospheres and tribal/pulsating energies amidst beautiful melodies and expansive electro-acoustic soundscapes, the collection draws on Dengler’s Gothic 90’s roots (most prominently, the neoclassical vibes typified by Dead Can Dance), his love for the ambient works of Arvo Pärt and Henryk Gorecki and his longtime embrace of new age innovators Patrick O’Hearn, David Darling, Will Ackerman and the late Constance Demby. While grounding his sensibilities in a 70s prog rock aesthetic, with lengthy tracks, slow deliberate phrasing and frequent tonal and rhythmic shifts as tracks develop, his goal was to feature prominent, unambiguous acoustic elements to convey a live feel to draw listeners to the natural world that is so close to his heart.
A modern day creative Renaissance man in every sense of the term, Dengler added some fascinating achievements to his resume between his Interpol days and current musical incarnation. Building on his work in the film industry – including writing, producing and scoring the short films Golgotha and My Friends Told Me About You, which featured him as lead actor – he completed a graduate degree in drama from Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. He understudied for Josh Radnor at Lincoln Center Theatre in a production of the Richard Greenberg play The Babylon Line and presented an autobiographical one man show at the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival. His Homo Sapiens Interruptus focused on his interest in heavy metal and paleoanthropology and revisited his life leading up to and including his involvement with Interpol, which he joined while still a student at NYU.
One of the most intriguing descriptions of Dengler’s rock and roll playing on his Wikipedia page informs us: “(his) trademark style is marked by grounded and stylized bass lines, strident staccato bursts, a clean tone brought about by his Fender Jazz Bass and octave jumps, almost in a disco like fashion.” This is fascinating in light of the fact that the Dengler we hear on Private Earth is a completely unique musical soul creating a musical realm far removed from the vibes he was creating in the earlier days of his career, part of an ongoing musical reinvention.
It's a privilege to experience this expansion as Dengler unfolds his nature-driven musical impressionism over the course of six tracks and 52 minutes. His opening track, “Desert Flora,” eases us into a very relaxed state, with a swirl of gentle atmospheres and chirping birds and very light percussion textures. As he increases the volume and intensity, the piece evolves into a full-on fusion of more powerful and spacious ambiences and hypnotic, persistent tribal rhythms that feel like exciting heartbeats in the wild. The slow building piece offers one of Dengler’s most inspired adventures.
Changing moods completely, the next track “Violet Night” is a lush, lyrical and sweetly melodic piece that introduces a key emotional element that infuses emotional balance into three tunes – the graceful and gorgeous flute of Keith Bonner. On this contemplative gem, Dengler’s sensual acoustic notes interact gently and create a slow, sensual dance with Bonner’s fully improvised melody. The flutist also brings his delicate, breathy sensitivity to the moody, haunting and mysterious “Ancient Lake,” another showcase for Dengler’s dreamy acoustic strum and innovative ambient textures; and “Solemn Cavern,” a deep meditation in which the flute brings shards of light to illuminate our way through a dark, immersive journey of obscure discoveries.
A carefully chosen entry point into the majestic flow to Dengler’s Private Earth is the song chosen for the lead single, the seductive, optimistic “Golden Dawn,” one of the album’s most engaging and purely melodic pieces featuring his hypnotic guitar motif, deeply soulful basslines, colorful nature sounds and fresh intricate discoveries with every unfolding synth-generated rush of ambience. The hopeful spirit of this tune is echoed later in “Rising Mountain,” the closing track which draws our hearts and souls ever higher on a wave of infectious exotic pulses and a swirling blend of hypno-ambience and cheerful birds chirping. On this piece and the previous five, his earthy ambient sensibilities offer breathtaking invitations to a sonic world like no other.