Mandala for Chaos by "Embracing
the Glass" (Jeff Sampson and Sean Carroll) Burning
Shirt Music, 2002 (Burning Shirt Music, Box 501, Templeton,
This unusual and original ambient album emerges out
of the misty woods of central Massachusetts. Privately
produced, it is the work of vocalist Jeff Sampson and
instrumentalist Sean Carroll, who call their duo
by the enigmatic name of "Embracing the Glass."
According to Sampson, this is not about drinking but
more about transparency and fragility.
Each track on this album has its own individual quality.
Sampson's ambient vocals, like those of the German Stephen
Micus, have no words, just meaningless syllables, or
no syllables at all. Sampson produces an impressively
wide variety of sounds; he can hum, croon, moan, chant
like a Tibetan monk, chant like a Western monk, or sing
high counter-tenor. And in the weirdly juxtaposed "Great
Lakes Chain Gang," he sounds like an improbable
white Aborigine singing the blues. All thetracks, according
to the notes, were created live in the studio, with
no overdubs. This leads to some distortions and small
extraneous sounds which you may or may not consider
part of the production.
The general mood of this album is slow and contemplative;
only the Great Lakes chain gang has any rhythm at all.
Track 1, "Around," moves in like the fog
with waves of minimalist electronic sound, the chord
increasing in complexity with each wave. Track 2, "Chasm
of Faith," features 12 minutes of Sampson's plaintive
pentatonics, accompanied by Carroll's cloudy guitar
tonalities. "Great Lakes," track 3, which
is my favorite, accompanies Sampson's glossolalic
blues with a wry rhythm track sampled from didgeridoo
and tabla. The longest track, #4, "After Dark,"
is their "Gothic" entry, with ominous, oozing
instrumentals and croaking, dungeon vocals. The last,
title track, "Mandala for Chaos," is reminiscent
of neo-medieval ambient sounds like "Dead can Dance"
or "Vas," with Sampson chanting sweetly like
a vampire choirboy.
Mandala for Chaos is the kind of album that
has flourished with the widespread availability of recording
and CD production technology, as well as Internet distribution.
As independents, "Glass" have no marketer
telling them what they have to do to sell to the masses,
so they can produce as offbeat an album as they wish.
This is not something for a casual listener; it's best
if you are familiar with the minimalist ambient and
Gothic genre. But if you like that cold moist wind from
the north, and the moving shadows of dark branches,
this album will fill your chill.
Hannah M.G. Shapero 3/23/03