[sic] Magazine

subtractiveLAD – where the land meets the sky

n5MD is a label that wishes to challenge perceptions. The majority of the artists there are doing something more personal, more emotive than the usual IDM crowd. There’s nothing cold about n5MD. Nothing robotic. Instead you’ll find warmth, personality and emotion at the core of each n5MD project. This is why I think the label is such a great entry point for non-IDM fans. After all I used to be one! I stumbled into this world through ambient and the electronica re-imagination of shoegaze. Like anyone, I have my favourites. Last Days, Bitcrush, and Lights Out Asia have all delighted me on different occasions. But if I had to choose one act, one artist who typified the label, then I stake my claim for subtractiveLAD.

subLAD (real name Stephen Hummel) must be the archetypal n5MD artist. This is the Canadians fifth album for the Californian roster and a culmination of Hummels life work to date. With a background in jazz and classical and a penchant for customising instruments (emulators in the main) the subLAD process is ever evolving. The mission however remains steadfast – namely to convey his innermost emotions through his sound – a sound by the way that has changed over each subsequent release.

So to the latest, Where the land meets the sky – a clear reference to the horizon. (From the ancient Greek – the apparent line that separates earth from sky.) And listening to many of these compositions is not unlike contemplating the horizon. The opener ‘Through the trees’ is a daybreak slice of IDM, after which things get really good. ‘Away from the brightness’, like many of the ambient pieces here, is an Eno/Vangelis hybrid of languid proportions. But the whole recording is a naturalistic flow. Tonal and textural in style ‘Land…’ eschews the psyche/drone dabbles that padded Apparatus. The closest we come here is ‘Each other in darkness’ which is just too blissful to aggravate.

One of the reasons we’re all drawn toward minimal or ambient music is that the space brings us closer to the infinite. (And therefore closer to God?) For the most part subLAD pieces are typically drifting, Eno-influenced soundscapes but the beefed-up percussion on this latest release pushes Land… further in the post-rock direction that parts of Apparatus hinted at. If we do meet a higher authority on ‘Land…’ then it has to be in the guise of ‘The slender stem’. This is arguably the best subLAD track of all time running the full gamut of nu-gaze electronica with its Ulrich Schnauss-like, agreeable atmospherics and a twinkling of Boards of Canada nostalgia.

We could even make claims for Land as a double album. (There’s a fine bonus disc on the limited edition) Hummel has done five albums in as many years but I’d be happy with another five. I’d love to see where the subLAD voyage takes us. For this is a truly ambient experience fusing feelings and landscape. And I suspect the journey isn’t quite over yet.