Review – Raleigh – Amberhaze

Reviewed by: Jeff McAllister

After spending so long on the sunny shores of Singapore, winter’s got to come as a shock.

And that’s the exact vibe one gets when listening to Raleigh, the second release by Amberhaze (otherwise known as Giuliano Gullotti) on independent label KittyWu Records. The EP is filled with passive curiousity—a lazy pondering of a season away from the sun.

Raleigh tells the story of Gullotti’s first few weeks living in Toronto. The album was recorded in a two-month run between Halloween and Christmas 2010.

“After living on the equator for so long, you forget what makes cold seasons so special: the light changes, the nights grow longer, things become still and then it starts snowing,” Amberhaze writes in the notes that accompany the album. Raleigh is his journal —a diary of new beginnings, new horizons, new soundscapes. And as far as concepts are concerned, the composition is dead on.

Intentionally low mastering drapes the album in gossamer gloom. The sparse integration pizzicato strings add moments of festive warmth. The 6-track set creates sketches of frosted windows and northern lights. If anything comes as a surprise after reading Amberhaze’s liner notes, it’s that the record was born in Toronto, rather than a more rural location. One almost expects a cabin in Siberia or some other far off arctic plane.

What defines a great instrumental album is the fine line between experimentation and indulgence. Without lyrics to guide the listener, an artist becomes reliant on more obtuse tools to convey themes—repetitions and releases, slow builds and violent crescendos.  When properly executed, the result is incredibly rewarding—music at it’s most pure. But too often does the genre fall flat. The stakes are higher—attention to detail is more important than ever. Too many production tricks can break the mood of a record; not enough can cause even the shortest of EPs to grow stale.

With four years of experience, Amberhaze seems very aware. Opening track, “Pumpkin Seed,” shows his mastery of dichotomy: a distant music-box tinkles above a bleeting electronic pulse. It’s followed, however, by the six and a half minute “Howland,” which quickly slows the album to a halt. But then again, given the scope of the album, this could be Amberhaze’s exact intention. Similar criticism can be applied to finale, “The C.P.R. (Beyond Christie),” which terminates the EP in a minute and a half long mechanical drone.

Raleigh isn’t always the easiest listen, but that’s the point. In many ways, listening to the album is a bit like reading Falkner—arduous but evoking. Love it or hate it, the guy’s got talent. And with the album available for free download at Amberhaze’s bandcamp page, you might as well give it a shot.

Top Tracks: “Pumpkinseed” ; ”From Foxpoint to Vermont Square”

Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)

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