- A touching, occasionally epic exercise in chill-out room ambient techno.
- The fog that covers San Francisco is so persistent and reliable that the locals affectionately call it Karl. An equally iconic presence in the city is the massive Sutro Tower, which has been poking through the mist since the early '70s. The image of this sharp geometric object thrusting through the clouds makes a neat metaphor for Christina Chatfield's debut album, which is named after the towering landmark. On Sutro, the Bay Area techno producer sublimates her usual dance floor techno into slow, yearning drifts and foggy atmospherics. It's a departure from her past work, but she finds more room to assert herself in these wide open spaces, revealing a striking talent for poignant synth motifs and graceful arrangements.
The music on Sutro is unhurried and sprawling—three of its eight tracks break the ten-minute mark—but Chatfield takes a dynamic approach to composition. Arpeggios gradually unfurl through the entirety of both "Concatenate" tracks, and Chatfield puts them centre stage, keeping you attuned to each small shift as it drags you deeper into the rabbit hole. "Concatenate I," with its wondrous kosmische synth melodies, sounds a bit like a trance record playing at 16 RPM. "Concatenate II," meanwhile, centers on a haunting melody as it flows through its nine minutes. The latter is one of several high points on Sutro, where Chatfield floats a chord progression so elegant you wish it could go on even longer. It feels horribly cliché to bring up Brian Eno, but I can't help but think of the simple grandeur of songs like "An Ending (Ascent)" when listening to "Concatenate II."
Beyond her elegant melodies, the Bay Area artist's attention to detail is apparent in Sutro's rich, almost imperceptible atmospheres. "Nameless Islet," another major highlight, features drowsy dialogue and what sounds like a shoegaze band playing on the win. These blurry sections create a dreamy, half-lidded mood that defines the LP. Even Sutro's techno-leaning tracks, like "Reeds," feel like a fugue state. The closer, "Sutro," with its heartbeat kick drum and bold, New Agey chords, feels like the sun finally evaporating the mist as it reaches its midday apex in the sky.
The vision of ambient music on Sutro is clearly informed by decades in the techno scene, where chill-out doesn't always mean beatless music or drone. Like the other artists that have released music on Mysteries Of The Deep, Chatfield approaches ambient from a techno perspective, with the genre's penchant for repetition and the power of subtle changes, not to mention carefully layered atmospherics. A lot of ambient techno can feel emotionally distant, but Sutro, with its incredible melodies and gentle touch, is as comforting and reassuring as that view of the San Francisco Bay with the fog and the tower, a striking combo that feels comforting and eternal.
02. Nameless Islet
03. Concatenate I
04. Pearls Scattered
07. Concatenate II