- A quietly poetic LP of classical amd ambient forms with an isolating warmth.
- Though it's taken many shapes and forms, John Roberts' music has always possessed a kind of formal elegance. Not only are the New York-based artist's compositions sophisticated, but his sound choices are classically informed. Piano, violin, guitar and trumpet are central to his music's pleasing character, and his romance with these instruments grows clearer on each release. Can Thought Exist Without The Body, Roberts' fourth album, shows his fascination with piano more than ever, delivered as a kind of minimalist ambient record. It contains some of the producer's most eloquent ideas, and also some of his prettiest.
Can Thought Exist Without The Body is a quiet collection of evocative soundscapes, with classical instruments at its core. There's graceful piano, played by Sonya Belaya, and tender violin, played by the duo of Pauline Kim and Conrad Harris. Given the emotional power of these instruments, Roberts avoids getting overly sentimental by using each one at its bare minimum. The violin is mostly a texture, adding poignant streaks of mood. Meanwhile, the piano arrives in simple loops or delicately struck notes, rolling in as softly as a breeze through the window. Were the music used to soundtrack a film, the direction would be art house. "Eyeline Match"'s cascading piano, for example, recalls the summer magic of Luca Guadagnino's Call Me By Your Name.
Acoustic instruments may add gorgeous focal points to this album, but equally important is its electronic sense of atmosphere. Can Thought Exist Without The Body sounds modern because of the space around its instrumental parts. Here, the textures belong less to neo-classical and more to ambient and drone. Sheer pads, pensive synth tones and pacifying bass frequencies swathe the analog sounds in an isolating warmth. It feels still and comfortably endless, like a daydream floating on and on. The meandering title track lets this go for 11-minutes, as pulsing drones blur into violin, and then decay away as gently as they blossomed. By the piece's end, the only clear takeaway is its sense of solitude.
Often artists strive to make their next album "bigger and better." The analogous goal for Roberts might be "more studious and refined." It'd be hard to say whether Can Thought Exist Without The Body is a better record than its predecessors, which are, by the way, all exquisite. I felt affectionately towards this album's loose and poetic billow, as much as I was thrilled by the sweet and puzzle-like structures on Plum. What's impressive is that both records, different as they are, carry the charming voice of its maker. It shows the purity of Roberts' taste and style as he challenges himself to evolve.
01. Eyeline Match
02. Mental Model No 1
03. Can Thought Exist Without The Body
04. Mental Model No 2
05. Separate Machines