When reviewing Kyle Bobby Dunn’s last release, A Young Person’s Guide To Kyle Bobby Dunn, one of the things that I feel may have slipped past me is the humour. In retrospect “Empty Gazing” and “Sets Of Fours (Its Meaning Is Deeper Than Its Title Implies)” seems to be subtle and cheeky jabs at the pretentious and overly serious nature of your stereotypical ambient artist. Even the title of the collection seemed to be an overly narcissistic joke, making his music out to be something severely complex and in itself a topic for young people to study thoroughly (the ironic thing being – if it is to be called irony – that the 2CD collection is a pretty heavy load for anyone to start with). But if anyone ever had any doubt about Dunn having a tongue in cheek approach to his work then they needn’t look further than the title of the fifteen minute album centrepiece from new album Ways of Meaning: “Movement For The Completely Fucked.”
Of course, this isn’t to say or suggest that Dunn doesn’t take his music seriously (but if his output so far is him just playing about then I marvel at thought of what a serious work by him would sound like). Dunn’s music is definitely serious and it’s hard to doubt there being anything but sincere and deliberate thought being put into each and every track. Most of his compositions originate from live instruments, but this almost becomes irrelevant when you hear the music itself. On Ways of Meaning only once (to me) does it ever sound as though there might be an original recording being set out for us, and that’s on “Statuit.” At first it sounds like some sort of organ recorded in a very specific way, but as new notes slide in the original sound feels like it’s been slowed down and yet it all runs seamlessly. It’s a great effect and is pulled off with such masterful skill that it actually sounds like Dunn is teasing and treating us at the same time.
If anything Ways of Meaning showcases the way Dunn has mastered not only different kinds of ambient noise, but also the way he presents things. The album runs so peacefully for the first two tracks that when the shimmering cascades of “Canyon Meadows” fades in, you near enough forget you’re ten minutes into an album. “Canyon Meadows” is a hell of a piece though, and is probably the most interesting thing here just for the noise it emits: it sounds like glaciers moving in the sun – beautiful but a little jarring almost. However, it’s the earlier mentioned “Movement For The Completely Fucked” that’s the subtle monolith of the album. Over almost fifteen minutes the piece evolves from near enough nothing to a presence that feels like it’s surrounding you. In a nutshell it’s just a very long crescendo, but in Dunn’s world it’s an exciting event.
The rest of the album is dedicated to those quiet moments that can verge on near enough silence if you’re not listening carefully enough or have too much going on around you. “New Pures” in particular feels like a slowed down single sigh of relief between the two highlights mentioned above. But these surrounding tracks are just as expert as any of Dunn’s other great works; they weave in and out of your consciousness perfectly like all good ambient music should, and even when “Canyon Meadows” comes along it never feels like it is demanding your attention. And really that’s what makes the album pleasant to listen to: it’s another dose of what Dunn seems to be becoming a modern master of, while carefully trying out new textures. That might sound like the progress is rather placid, but in the world of ambient music there’s no such thing as going too slow.